Chapter 1: Wanting
Anora was lying flat on his bed waiting for him wearing only her chemise, and Alistair stifled a heavy sigh. "Anora?" he let her know he was there, "Was there something you wanted?"
"Alistair, let's just get this over with. I have other things to do."
"Like what?" Alistair, reluctant King of Ferelden, had heard this too many times before.
"Like sleep," Anora his queen said flatly, “I’m…I’m very tired.”
"Great! We can take our time and then sleep together. People do, you know," Alistair, a big man with his red gold hair in a short soldier’s cut was fighting a losing battle, but he was gamely trying to win.
The man could hear his wife grinding her teeth together, and struggled not to provoke her. It was so tempting though. He wished that his queen understood his sense of humor. So far he had seen little sign that she had one of her own. It was hard to get past that prickly yet stony defense.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your outlook, a bell began to ring in the distance. It was an alarm, but not one that Alistair recognized, not for example the fire bell which he had heard when the kitchen chimney caught fire two weeks ago, and it continued to ring. Bolting for the anteroom he buckled on the dagger hanging there. It was the only weapon he had managed to keep in his quarters. The servants kept removing armor and swords and putting them away after cleaning.
There was no way to secure the entry. This was a palace, not really a castle, and the furniture was massive. Even with Anora's help he wouldn't be able to move anything to block the door. Also, there was the doorway to Anora’s suite to consider. Her bedchamber had a tiny hallway leading to his.
"What are you doing?" Anora's confused voice came from the door to his bedroom.
"It's an alarm," Alistair was thoughtful.
"And the guards will respond to it," Anora did not sound patient.
"It's gone on long enough that it means something serious. Do you have your knife on you?" he was watching the door, listening for sounds in the hallway - not an easy task with stone walls, and solid wooden doors.
There was a scrambling sound as his wife, the Queen of Ferelden, grabbed for her clothing on the chair and pulled the very small knife from the scabbard concealed in her skirts. She pulled the blade and came to stand beside him.
"If you hold it that way you'll break at least one finger," Alistair's strong fingers moved Anora's on the hilt of the little knife, "Have you ever practiced with this?"
Anora flushed, "It's for emergencies, not for regular use. I'm not your Antivan bodyguard."
Alistair frowned at the small blade, "I assumed that since you carried it you knew how to use it."
"You..." Anora was taken aback, "You knew I carried it?"
"It is not hard to tell when someone has a weapon strapped to her leg, even under a skirt. You walk differently," Alistair's mind was not on her knife, "If they come through the doorway I want you to get under the bed. It won't protect you if they get past me, but it might keep you safe for the moment. Maybe for long enough that some of the guard will arrive. Also, slash for the eyes if they try to come after you under the bed."
"You're over-reacting," Anora managed a bored tone.
Alistair gave the queen an even look, then went on as if she had not spoken, "I don't like this. We've heard nothing, but the alarm. Your guard should have checked on us by now.
If I had Zevran here, or Theron I'd be able to go out through the hall door and make things secure. We've also got to worry about the door to your suite."
"Without any real weapon?" this time Anora's tone was snide, though to be honest she was not trying to be.
Her husband shot her a look, "Anora, I *am* a weapon. I am *your* weapon."
Then, as if her words were just registering, "Zevran's my bodyguard?"
"Zevran Arainai receives a stipend, room and board. We had to give him some form of assignment. What did you think he was doing?" Anora's voice took on an edge.
"Uh. Spying?" Alistair blushed, "I told him to turn over anything he found out to your spymaster."
"Spying on whom?" the edge remained.
"Well, I asked him to keep an ear open out in the city. Especially so that we could repair damage done in the Alienage, but also around other places," Alistair waved his dagger about vaguely, "I thought it would be helpful."
Anora shook her head, "Alistair I already have people out in the city. And in the palace. And in most of the Noble's homes."
Might as well shove the blade in, since her dear husband had given her the opportunity, "My spies are how I know about your Mistress."
Anora could feel Alistair's confusion as he asked, "What mistress?"
"The one you're keeping outside of Denerim. And all the children you're fostering. Five of them! Are any of them actually yours?" Anora had thought she'd gotten over being angry about this.
Alistair had turned out to be just like Cailan. Just like Maric.
Alistair blinked at her, "Goldanna? Are you talking about Goldanna?"
"I believe that was the name, yes," Alistair could hear the pure poison in Anora's voice.
"Oh, good," there was understanding in Alistair's voice, "I told Zevran to tell your spymaster about her. Goldanna's not my mistress, she's my sister. And a nastier shrew I have yet to meet."
"Your sister?" Now it was Anora's turn to look startled.
"Half-sister. My mother's daughter. Born before me. Imagine my surprise when my last living relative turned out to be horrible. Or maybe I shouldn't have been surprised," a more bitter Alistair Anora had never heard, "She wanted me to 'take care of her', as in money. I took care of her alright. Zevran was supposed to make it clear that she was to be put away where she couldn't cause you any trouble. Or me. Without killing her, and they're supposed to have given her a job as well. I want her to work. And to get her kids some form of training away from her influence."
"Oh," Anora seemed to be struggling with herself, "Then... what about the Orlesian trollop?"
"Who? Leliana? She'd be more interested in you than in me. Or in your shoe collection. I do think she tried to seduce Theron, but he wanted to marry one of his own people. Never gave way to Zevran either. Neither of them ever gave way to Zevran. I mean..."
Alistair's voice was subdued, "Did you really think I was cheating on you? And we've not even been married a month?"
"It would not be the first time," came the flat reply.
Anora?" Alistair halted.
The silence stretched on until, "What?"
"I take my vows seriously. I have no other lovers, and will not take one while we are married. Which I expect to be ... well, until I die," Alistair paused, "Do you have one? A lover, I mean..."
Anora swallowed hard, "No. There was only Cailan, and there is only you. Now."
The man beside her gave himself a shake, like a wet mabari, then, "I'm going to check the hallway. You get well back under the bed. If I make enough noise, any...problems should come after me."
"Wait," Anora put a hand on her husband's arm, "You're my weapon, after all. I... I don't want you to be broken for no reason."
"I won't be long!" and Anora felt a quick enthusiastic kiss on the top of her head before Alistair moved toward the door, "Now, back into the bedroom so I can open the door."
Anora threw the pillows and bedding around the room for effect, pulled the curtains closed on emptiness, then wedged herself into the dusty underneath of the four poster bed. She could hear the door opening, then Alistair commenting sarcastically about the bodies he was finding in the hallway. She realized he was doing it for her benefit, and as the king moved from the door he dropped into silence. There was nothing tentative about the man, nothing biddable about him now. Unlike his manner when he was expected to make announcements in his guise as King, here he was competent. Anora realized that this was his job, what he had been trained for, what he had experience doing. The spot on top of her head where he’d kissed her felt warm.
There was almost no similarity between her husbands. Possibly around the face, but their voices were completely different. They were both big and good looking. Cailan was prettier about the face than Alistair. Their mannerisms as well - that made sense, since they’d had nothing in their upbringing in common. What would Cailan have done in this situation?
Well, for one thing, Cailan would have been out that door without thinking, calling for his sword, off to save the world, glorying in the excitement and chance to use his much honed fighting skills. There would have been some thought as to tactics, but nothing like the experience that Alistair had shown in planning on the spur of the moment. Cailan was gifted with a sword, and had spent many long years of practice at the subject he loved above all other things. Alistair had practical experience, but didn’t seem to love the sword for itself. It was just something he did. Something he was.
Cailan would have, if he’d thought of her at all, given her a figurative pat on the head, told her not to bother that pretty little head, he’d get it all sorted out. He did that with things like this, but left the business of ruling to her. The part of the King job that he did not like. Then he would have gone off to adventure. Much as he’d left her for Ostagar. Where, apparently, he was corresponding with the Orlesian Empress. About Anora’s lack of pregnancy.
Alistair was Cailan’s father’s bastard, King Maric having gotten a serving girl at Redcliff Castle pregnant. Anora had wondered why the King had handed his newly born son begotten in adultery over to the “protection” of his wife’s brother. It seemed an... odd thing to do if you wanted the child to survive. Possibly for a stop gap in case Rowan had not conceived, and then in case Cailan had not survived. And Eamon had indeed brought the child up, somewhat, but not as the son of a king. He’d been a stable boy, sleeping in the hayloft, and not given all that much affection growing up. Alistair had told her that Arl Eamon had been good to him. Perhaps that explained why he was so eager for some form of approval from her.
Would that eagerness for her good will keep him from laying all the serving girls? The nobility, throwing themselves at him? The Empress of Orlais? From lying to her about it? Everything he’d told her up to this point had been the truth. Everything easy to check. That made the inevitable moment when he deceived her all the more something for her to fear. Anora could not let her guard down again. Even her father had deceived her. It still hurt. Cailan’s rutting with anything that moved, male or female, whoever took his fancy, had hurt her. There were faces at court that she still had to bite her cheek to be pleasant to.
There was movement as the door to her rooms opened slightly, and Anora could see booted feet , the soft leather type of boots, walking nearly silently past the bed. Then disappearing behind a tapestry on the wall. Not Alistair then. He was wearing felt house shoes, and would have spoken. Anora clutched her knife and tried to remain still and noiseless. Sound from the hallway, noise from swords and armor coming closer. Alistair would be walking into a trap, she realized, and there was no way for her to warn him.
"Anora!" Alistair came bursting into the anteroom, moving fast toward the bedroom. The queen began to shriek at the top of her lungs, "It's a trap, Alistair, there's someone in here!"
Movement came from the door to her room as darker boots, hard heels on the flags of the floor rushed to meet the King. As they passed the tapestry the soft boots stepped from behind, there was a gurgling sound, and a body collapsed to the floor next to the bed, blood seeping into a throw rug under it, she could taste the coppery smell. "Anora!" Alistair certainly made enough noise as he stepped over the body and knelt by the bed. Other men in armor flooded the room behind him. "Alistair, there's another one!" which was patently stupid to say, since the soft booted person was simply standing there in full view of her husband.
"It's okay, it's just Zev. Are you alright?" Alistair dropped a large sword and a guardsman’s shield, pulled her out from under the bed.
"Who was it?" Anora growled, aware of how dusty it was under the bed, and how terrible she must look in front of the Antivan assassin and the royal guard. Merciful Maker, she was only wearing her chemise and her hair was hanging down out of it’s braids.
Alistair nudged the body with a felted foot, "Tevinter. Assassins sent by the slavers. I think they might have been angry that we shut down their operation in the Alienage."
The king had equipped himself. He had also brought a crowd of guardsmen with him, including the captain of the guard. Anora wondered where he had gotten the anonymous sword and if the guardsman's shield had come from a guardsman's corpse. It struck Anora that she wanted to see Alistair fighting in her defence. She had seen it when the Gray Wardens had rescued her from Arl Howe, of course. Now that he was her husband, and apparently perfectly happy to lop off heads in her service, the thought gave her a tingle. After all, Cailan had never had to fight for her, not for her hand, nor her favor. Betrothed from the cradle, and one did not withhold what the golden prince Cailan desired.
Suddenly conscious that Alistair had his arms around her, was holding her very tightly, protectively, in front of her captain of the guards and his men, Anora froze. Alistair gave directions regarding transport of the assassins to the spymaster, and respectful treatment of their own dead.
"This was the last one, I think, my friend. We have killed quite a few. An expensive operation," Zevran Arainai's soft Antivan accent did not grate as it usually did, "I believe that we can seal off her majesty's room so that she can get to sleep while we are cleaning in here.
Or," the blonde elf bowed, “Perhaps we can find other quarters if her Majesty would prefer?”
“My husband and I will sleep in my room, as long as you have not left any inconvenient bodies behind when you passed through there, Arainai,” Anora lifted her chin, the better to quell impertinence.
Zevran laughed, “No, no bodies for the Queen. They all seem to have ended up in the King’s quarters and the hallways.”
“Zev,” Alistair took the elf aside, and spoke softly, Anora listened carefully, fretting over the noise from the guardsmen, “Anora is going to need some form of training in how to use a knife. She needs to be able to defend herself. Would you please see to it. Tomorrow?”
“Like I did with W…” Zevran fell silent at a minute shake of Alistair’s head, “It shall be as you ask.”
Sketching a bow to the queen, the Elven assassin joined the captain of the guard, sliding a skilled hand across the seat of a guardswoman behind the captain’s back. Anora did not wait for Alistair to shepherd her into her own room, but marched there, back very straight, leaving her gown and petticoats on the chair by Alistair’s bed.
Anora’s mind was working furiously. “W…” would need to be someone from the group that Alistair had traveled with. The only one whose name began with a W was Wynne, the Circle mage. Why wouldn’t Alistair want Zevran to talk about her. He almost never did mention the woman. Her husband mentioned Morrigan more often than the Circle Mage, and that never without loathing in his voice. But Alistair did talk about them, what he called “Theron’s clan”. It was almost a compulsion for him to share these people with her. Just the thought of the Dalish Warden who had killed her father upset Anora, and she had not been easy for Alistair to talk to about anything to do with Theron Maherial.
Anora realized that Alistair had entered the room, shut the dark, polished wood door, and was leaning on it, clearly not certain of his welcome in her bedroom. Anora had never invited him into the room before. All breeding activities had taken place in Cailan’s bed. “So,” Alistair’s voice sounded over loud, “Your bedroom.”
Anora looked at him evenly, “My bedroom.”
“Aaaand you are not going to make this easy on me, are you?” her husband gave her a lopsided grin.
For answer, Anora patted the bed beside her. The first kiss was like a first kiss, careful, tentative, but it moved on as Anora allowed Alistair to take the initiative. Soon her chemise and his clothing were discarded, Alistair guiding her hands to his ties and buttons in request and then undoing her fastenings himself. He explored, taking his time, more time than she had given him before, and it was having an effect on Anora. Mouth, tongue, and teeth moved downward, following his strong calloused hands, until they all met and moved slowly, patiently to bring her to a heaving climax.
Moving to take his place beside her, he held tight until the shudders had stopped, then began again, almost from the beginning, teasing and exploring with his fingers, preparing her to accept him. Anora could feel his excitement against her leg, and finally pulled Alistair toward her, opening for him. Matching her movements, her husband held back, waited for Anora to finish, her legs wrapped around his waist, before allowing himself to peak, buried inside of her.
Anora lay in Alistari’s arms, waiting. This was something she did know about, and she felt regret at the loss of a rare moment of relaxation and pleasure, at the loss of the feeling she had of well being.
“Alistair?” she asked in a sleepy voice.
“Tell me about Theron’s clan?” There, Anora thought - Alistair rarely passed up that opportunity.
“Now?” Alistair took a moment before she could feel him suddenly tense.
Not going to work, thought his wife. Cailan had never been difficult to get talking about most things after he’d released. Well, most things. She’d never asked him about his mistresses. Perhaps Alistair was not as stupid as they’d all thought.
Might as well be hanged for murder than as a thief, “Tell me about Wynne.”
“I thought you might have heard Zevran,” Alistair sighed, “What do you want to know?”
Anora tried a novel approach, “Be honest, Alistair. Explain to me why you don’t talk about her. Why you have been keeping things from me?”
“Wynne is … special, Anora,” Alistair’s voice was low, and she could feel it through his chest rumbling into her body, “And I don’t know how to tell you about her. About us.”
Anora swallowed, “About you?” she congratulated herself on the calm and even tone of her voice.
“I told you I’d had a lover, one who was gone. It was Wynne. She...we were ...together for about six months. The last time was before the battle of Denerim, and she has gone to Tevinter to study. She was my first.
I will never see her again,” there was no regret in Alistair’s voice, it was just...calm.
Before Anora could say anything Alistair hurried on, “She asked me to... well not to ever throw her in your face.”
“That’s it?” Anora asked, “That’s all?”
“Anora, if you have a question for me, ask it. The only things I can’t tell you about are the Gray Warden issues. I wish I could, but I can’t. Although I daresay you can figure out most of those yourself...”
“I’m not used to...honesty,” Anora felt Alistair’s arms tighten around her.
“If I haven’t told you something,”Alistair replied, “It’s possible that I haven’t thought you’d want to know. Ask me. Or tell me if you want me to know something. That way we won’t have misunderstandings.”
Anora sighed, “And now I’ve ruined that perfectly lovely feeling.”
“Well,” smiled Alistair, “I’m sure we can find it again...”
Chapter 2: Practicing...
In which someone close gives them a little push.
“What is this?” Anora picked up a large, square, red leather bound book placed at the foot of their bed.
Alistair pulled a blue velvet tunic off over his head, “What is what?” his voice was muffled.
Anora smiled while her husband could not see it. It was a fond smile, as she took in the hard muscle of his torso. “There is a book on the bed.”
Alistair pulled his head free to see his wife looking down with a frown. “If it’s one of those books you set for me to learn about Ferelden’s financial background from, I though I left those in my rooms.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Anora said thoughtfully, “I haven’t seen this one before.”
Alistair was amused, “Have you read every book in the castle library?" He looked over the tunic, smoothing the royal blue softness.
Anora tossed her head, “Why wouldn’t I have?”
Catching her tone, Alistair raised his eyebrows, “That sounds… what do you mean? It wouldn’t surprise me that you’d do anything you wanted to do.”
Anora looked at the big man, shirtless, his hair still close cropped instead of long and braided like a nobleman, like Cailan’s had been. There were a host of younger nobility who copied the soldier’s cut since Alistair had been crowned. Alistair cocked his eyebrow at her just like Arainai, something Anora could not imitate no matter how she tried in the standing mirror in the corner. “I…” Anora stopped, then tried again, “No. No, I just didn’t recognize it.”
“What’s it called,” Alistair smiled, fondly, and did not try to hide it.
Anora was not used to people being fond of her. Proud of her, pleased at what she could do for them, angry at her, but not fondness. Opening the pebbled leather cover, “’The Art of Love’ by Renee Duchamp. It’s a translation of an Orlesian book,” the tone was one of disdain.
“Is it one of those romance novels?” Alistair peeled off the tight trousers before reaching for the fine linen night shirt.
“I don’t think so. It has pictures,” then, “Oh!” from Anora.
“What?” Alistair was curious and walked over to the bed.
“It’s…” Anora’s voice was choked, “A …a book of …” there was a hesitation, “sex.”
“What?” Alistair took the book and opened it to drawings, sketches and water color paintings of men and women, and other variations, engaged in a vast number of combinations of sexual conjugation.
“Oh! I’ve seen this before,” Alistair said faintly, “In the Wonders of Thedas.”
“What?” Anora’s turn.
“Yes, Zevran showed it to me! But I didn’t buy it. Didn’t actually look at it much. Being in public and all,” Anora heard the tone of voice and checked to see that yes, Alistair was blushing.
“Arainai,” Anora ground out.
“Zevran,” Alistair agreed, then began to laugh.
It was infectious, and Anora began to chuckle with him. It was rare that she laughed out loud, but she’d been doing it more often since she had married Alistair.
“Alright,” Alistair said finally, “Should we read it? Together?”
Zevran Arainai, leaning against the wall of the small hallway connecting Alistair's and Anora's bedrooms, listened to the laughter and smiled. Time now to go tend to his own romantic life.
The King and Queen of Ferelden lay companionably on Anora’s bed with the book spread open before them on the quilted coverlet. The first few pages would be familiar to the majority of those in wedded bliss. Anora looked sideways at the King of Ferelden, her husband, and it struck her with a pang how relaxed and happy the man looked. “I remember this one!” Alistair gave her a look that could only be described as naughty, “I think we should spend more time in the wine cellar…”
The wine cellar. Yes. Cold and dry. It had been a very late night with Anora tutoring Alistair on the fine points of what it cost to run the Palace household, at her husband’s request. All the servants had gone to bed, and Alistair had suggested that they go fetch one of the bottles of wine listed on the accounts themselves rather than ringing for the steward. Thick walls, the cellar buried in the plateau that held the palace, and even so some fool servant had heard “ghosts in the cellars, ser!”
“Yes,” Anora said, “Nice thick walls, so we can be as loud as we want.”
Alistair didn’t choke, but the blush returned. Anora had discovered that her husband was (so far as she was concerned) inordinately quiet in bed – the result, she assumed, of most of his sexual experiences taking place in canvas tents in the midst of a very chatty camp. Anora enjoyed letting her reactions show, and found that it had a positive effect on her husband. It was more exciting for her to hear him lose control of himself. Anora had made it a point to work on this inhibition.
It was amusing, as well, to see the expression on his face when he heard the servants talking about the “haunted wine cellars!” The servants were the reason that Alistair was wearing a night shirt right now. Anora knew it would come off as soon as her husband was certain that nobody would interrupt them now that they had retired for the night. Anora was wearing a chemise as well, but that was more because she liked to have Alistair remove it.
Alistair also refused to enter her chambers except through his room, as if the entire castle did not know that he was sleeping every night in her bed. That had taken getting used to for her first husband had never entered her bedroom at all that Anora could remember. Anora had requested time or been invited to her husband’s bed chamber, and that was that. Privacy for both parties, and the normal course of events for nobility all over Thedas as Anora knew from studying customs of those lands impacting on Ferelden.
“Anora,” Alistair’s voice had gone thoughtful, “Have you ever read ‘The Rose of Orlais’?”
“No. I know we have a copy in the castle somewhere, but I refused to allow it in the library,” Anora could be snooty about anything Orlesian.
“I could swear…” Alistair paged through the book in front of them slowly, “That all the sex scenes in that book are taken from here. The first twenty pages of this book, anyway.
They’re even in the same order!”
“Alistair, you’ve read The Rose of Orlais?” Anora didn’t know if she should feel shocked.
“Oh, yes!” Alistair was earnest, “For a while we were all talking about writing our own book. ‘A Mabari of Ferelden’. Everybody had ideas for it. But we never got around to actually putting them on vellum, let alone having anything printed.”
“We meaning Theron’s Clan?” Anora was struggling to grasp the concept of Alistair, a Gray Warden, Theron Maheriel, a Dalish Gray Warden, and the assorted misfits they’d traveled with reading, much less discussing a trashy novel such as ‘The Rose of Orlais.’
“Yesssss. Not Theron. When we suggested we write a Dalish romance novel instead it was the only time that I ever saw him get…” Alistair looked for the right word, “Huffy? Stroppy?
Anyway, he went off in a snit for a while. But when he got back he told us to go right ahead with our Ferelden book, but to leave the Dalish completely out of it, if we pleased!”
Anora, who did not like Theron Maheriel in the least, found herself laughing to tears at the mental picture of the Great Hero of Ferelden in a snit. When she recovered it was to find her husband looking at her fondly again, with his finger marking a place in the red book. “What do you think about trying this?” Alistair asked in what he imagined was a suave tone of voice.
“You don’t want to start at the beginning and work your way through the book?” Anora asked impishly.
“Not tonight… noooooo,” Alistair grinned, “Perhaps some night in the future?”
“I didn’t mean we’d do it all in one night, Alistair!” Anora began to laugh out loud again.
“Why not?” Alistair was overly earnest, “I think we could try at least…
Ooh, but not that one,” he went on as he peeked at a page toward the end of the book.
Anora agreed. Not that one. Nor the one after it, in which a man was shown pleasuring six women at once. “That one either,” Alistair agreed, “It doesn’t look like very much fun.”
“With his toes,” Anora shook her head, “Just… ew.”
“Some time I will have to tell you a story about Leliana and Zevran,” Alistair began.
“But not tonight,” Anora slipped her long fingers into the neck of the night shirt and tugged.
“No,” Alistair smiled as he skinned the shirt over his head, “Not tonight,” and then he went to work on removing Anora’s chemise in a much less efficient way.
Several references to events in May Into December.
Chapter 3: An evening out.
In which Alistair takes a walk.
Alistair left by the servant’s entrance. No crown, that was a given, and he was dressed in plain clothing in good repair. Anyone looking at him would know he was a guardsman, a working man, obviously someone who could handle himself in a fight.
Stretching his arms appreciatively at the lack of plate armor - leather weighed so much less, and was less restrictive. It did not take long to figure that he was being followed. It was not Zev, or Alistair would never have known. Alistair cracked his knuckles and stretched again. It had been quite some time since he’d been in a fight. Too long, in fact! The Tevinter assassins did not really count.
Anora was not happy. The common clothing was unfamiliar and heavy wool. She had rebraided her golden hair back into a tight tail, nothing like the well known hairstyle of the Queen of Ferelden. At least Alistair was not moving quickly. Wait. Where had he gone?
Rough hands seized Anora from behind, swung her around and slammed the Queen into the brick wall of the alleyway. The queen squeaked, going limp to drop and roll out from under as Arainai had taught her. Which left her hanging, ground into the wall by two very strong hands.
“Anora?” Alistair’s voice, concerned.
“Ow! Maker’s Breath, you big bully, let me go!” was the wrong demand as Anora was allowed to collapse to the cobbled street.
Alistair squatted down beside her, “Are you alright? I didn’t know it was you.”
Anora gave him a few choice curse words in Dwarven. Sitting up she raised a hand to the scrape mark where the back of her head had interacted with the wall, then flinched away from Alistair’s touch.
“I am so sorry, Anora!” then Alistair’s voice became considering, “Why were you following me?”
“I wanted to know where you were going,” Anora was defensive.
“You could have asked,” Alistair said flatly, “I told you I would answer *any* question. Andraste’s Ashes, Anora, will you ever trust me?”
“I...” the queen flushed, but raised her chin stubbornly.
Alistair sighed and stood smoothly. Reaching down he pulled his wife to her feet. “Come on,” Alistair threaded a resisting arm through his.
“Where?” Anora was definitely feeling as sullen as she sounded.
“I’ve been invited to dinner,” Alistair started off down the street dragging Anora behind, “I thought you had plans for dinner with the Seneschal.”
“No,” Anora was seething, “I deceived you. So that I could find out where you go.”
“Fine, because it’s so difficult to say, ‘Alistair are you going out into the streets of Denerim to meet with naughty women?’” he chided her, “Or ‘Alistair would you take me with you the next time you sneak off?’”
“Fine,” it was clipped, power word fine at all it’s shirtiest, “Alistair, are you going out into the streets of Denerim to meet with naughty women?”
“Nooooo,” drawled her infuriating husband, “I have been invited to dinner, as I said. And now my lovely wife will go with me!”
“Alistair, you can’t bring an unexpected person to a dinner!” Anora was aghast.
“My name is Carroll,” Alistair said with contentment, “And you are my lovely wife...Celia. Also, they told me to bring my mates. So this works,” Alistair was cheerful.
Swinging her around, more gently this time, the king kissed the bump on the queen’s head, then reaching over her shoulder, knocked on the wooden door in front her.
The room behind the door was warm and cheerful and filled with people. Dom and Hen an older couple, commoners, seemed to have a menagerie of children running about. It was noisy, but something smelled very good. “Mince Pie!” Alistair was exclaiming in ecstasy.
The meal took place on a scrubbed and sanded pine table, long and set with many places. Anora had never seen anything like it. Joking and noise and plentiful food, and an atmosphere of welcome.
“Celia is a seamstress for the new Arlessa of Denerim, but is originally from Gwaren,” Alistair had introduced her. This worked, explained her speech, if not her scholars callouses.
As she and Hen cleared the table afterwards, Alistair gave a wink and raised his mug of ale to her. Hen washed the plates in boiling water, handing them to “Celia” to dry them. The older woman confided, “Your husband was a blessing! Saved my Dom from robbers, then carried him home here afterward when Dom was knocked that silly by a club.
So handsome too! You haven’t been married long?”
"No," Anora demurred, "Not for long."
“Well, don’t you worry. With a man like Carroll, you’ll start building up your family in no time. Though, as the Maker wills. My Dom and I never could have children.”
Anora grabbed for the plate she had let slip, “But... all those children out there?”
“Well, they’re ours, true enough. After the Battle of Denerim we started collecting them. There’s always room for one more.
And your Carroll introduced us to Captain Kylon, who has been an enormous help.“
Later, walking back through the dark and truthfully frightening streets of nighttime Denerim, Anora was quiet. When they finally reached their rooms in the Palace she pulled on Alistair’s arm to stop him. Standing on her toes she kissed his cheek, “Thank you for taking me with you. I would like to go again.”
There was that pleased smile again. Nothing she had ever done for Cailan had made him react that way. Cailan had been a happy soul, given to cheerful smiles and welcoming everyone. This was for her alone. And it made Anora very happy.
Chapter 4: Rainesfere
What exactly is the Royal Prerogative? or was it Perogative?
The Bannorn was as rocky as the rest of the Ferelden, but wooded, with small patches of grain and vegetable fields and acres of livestock paddocks. Alistair Thieron, King of Ferelden rode at the head of a group of horsemen, Zevran Arainai at one side, Teagan, Arl of Redcliff at the other. The king wore armor that shone so brightly it hurt to look at in the sunlight, and round his right bicep was tied a golden strip of silk, the favor of his Queen, Anora Mac Tyr Thieron.
This was Alistair’s second trip to the Bannorn as King, the first had been right after Theron and the Gray Wardens had received the Arling of Amaranthine from Anora. Alistair wondered if Anora had deliberately gifted Amaranthine to Theron to get him out of Denerim, where the Wardens were historically based in Ferelden. It had been a good decision in the long run, what with the Dark Spawn incursions at Vigil’s Keep, and the unsettling war between the Architect and The Mother.
This trip was more in a friendly vein, an embassy, with a sendoff from Denerim and gifts instead of expectations, armor, and demands of fealty. Alistair was enjoying being on the road, his own tent, taking care of his own horse, untroubled by the expectations of servants until they reached Rainesfere. Being alone for that single night in the small canvas tent, he’d refused Cailan’s huge retinue on the grounds that they’d mostly be staying with the Banns, meant that he’d have time to think about Anora. Being married was not what he’d thought it would be, and Alistair was trying to puzzle some things out.
Teagan, Zevran and Alistair had strategized the night before in camp. “Gwilliam will be on edge because I am with you, Alistair. You are his king, but I am his Arl, and he has taken over my position in Rainesfere. There is every possibility that he will be looking for slights or intent where there is none.
Gwilliam is loyal to the crown, and a good honest man, but can be…” Teagan chose his words carefully, “Oversensitive.”
Alistair asked thoughtfully, “You’re his Arl, should I let you do the talking? Aside from courtesies that is?”
Teagan paused for a moment, pleased that Alistair was losing the uncertainty that had marked much of his early presence as King of Ferelden, “Be yourself, Alistair, but be wary of over-complimenting. Do not refuse any gifts – even if the offer seems too much. To do so would be inferring that the Bann is not able to judge, is not able to offer what is owed to his king.
They will be striving to do Rainesfere proud.”
“My scouts will mingle with the common crowd while we are at the keep. When we leave I will have a clear picture of the area for you, her Majesty, and her spymaster,” Zevran reminded them.
“Scouts still seems like an odd thing to call them, Zev,” Alistair smiled at his friend.
“They are not assassins, and more than spies,” Zevran cocked his head to look up at the stars, “Until we work out exactly how we mean to use them it is best not to tie them to a name.
Scouts serves them well enough, as Body Guard seems to have mollified your bride when referring to my services.”
“I want you as part of the party tomorrow, not standing behind my seat and tasting my food, Zev,” Alistair was emphatic.
“And so,” Zevran offered smoothly, “Her Majesty has named me your assistant, with the title, yet, of Ser.”
Alistair and Teagan shot glances at the former Antivan Crow, Alistair’s pleased, Teagan’s surprised. Zevran raised his eyebrows at the both of them, “She has increased my salary as well. Quite generously too, I might add.”
Alistair laughed, “What are you supposed to be doing, with your new title and position?”
“Why, guarding you, my friend.
I have reason to believe,” Zevran put a world of concern in his tone, “That were I to return without you unharmed, in one piece, in your right mind, and able to function as her consort, Queen Anora would have me skinned alive and then rolled in salt.”
Zevran laughed, he had a merry one, at Alistair’s face, his jaw dropped, eyebrows raised to the hairline of the short cropped soldier’s cut. Teagan, smiling, said, “Anora must value you highly Alistair.”
“Well...” Alistair was at a loss for words.
“But of course,”Zevran broke in smoothly, “It would be easier not to return to Denerim at all if such bad things occurred.
I will do my best not to lose you, Alistair, as I am eventually going to run out of places where I can live in peace.”
Alistair snorted, and Teagan brought out the map of their planned journey, and the topic turned to other discussions.
Rainesfere keep was more like a very large farmhold than a fortification. A cleared area around the main and out buildings gave good line of sight for anyone approaching, and a possible killing ground for defending archers.
The new Bann, Gwilliam, was tall, very thin, with thinning straight pale hair and a very short beard. Alistair had never been able to determine the man’s eye color beyond that it was so pale as to be colorless. The King quickly acknowledged the man, his short, round, smiling wife, and gaggle of identical teenaged daughters, quickly asking them to rise from their knees.
It was well after evening mealtime, but their host fed them with meat, good bread and a sweet wine. Alistair was in his element joking with the family, encouraging tales of their own experiences during the Blight. Zevran was quietly congenial, and Alistair was amused at the assassin’s blandly pleased expression as he consumed a polite amount of the sweet, foxy local vintage. Teagan knew the family well, and questioned them on inhabitants of the region, those who were new, and those whose family listed back for generations. Alistair had gotten over his nerves and was looking forward to clean sheets and a bed after only one night on the road. He must be getting soft, the King reflected. A bath was in the back of his mind. Horse and sweat did not improve with age.
When the three men were ushered to the bath house, a square wooden building without the slotted stalls to be found in Denerim public bathhouses Alistair could have kicked himself for forgetfulness. Of course there would be several tubs and of course they would be bathing together.
Alistair turned to his host to request a separate bath, possibly in his room, but swallowed the words at a surprised look from Teagan, and the slightest shake of the head from Zevran. Graciously he thanked the Bann and his wife for their thoughtfulness instead. Turning from his host and the doorway, the look on Alistair’s face was he took in the dark cozy room with three steaming copper tubs, warm in the flickering firelight and supplied with soap, towels, and more drink, was panicked. “Alistair,” Teagan said, while beginning to remove armor, “What is the matter?”
“it is true,” Zevran murmured, “You look … extremely unnerved,” as he too undressed.
Sighing heavily Alistair began to remove the heavy plate mail he was still wearing. The other men were stripped and sliding into the tubs before Alistair was done with the metal. He should have moved more quickly, he realized, and gotten immediately into the water while the others were still undressing. He stood uncertainly, staring at nothing before gritting his teeth and peeling the sweat stained under padding over his head. The firelight was bright enough to show the marks, welts spiraling up Alistair’s torso, across his back and sides and almost in a pattern up his stomach and chest to stop short of his bare neck. Teagan who was taking a drink of ale from a wooden mug did a spit take, then, “Maker! Alistair! Did Anora do that?”
Zevran closed his eyes and slid down to a comfortable position in the water, chuckling.
Alistair huffed out an annoyed gust of breath and began pulling off padded under breeches. His blush, Zevran noted through barely parted eyelids, bloomed from the man’s hairline down along the heavily muscled arms and spreading darkly across his chest, highlighting the livid marks. Removing the metal boots and his stockings Alistair revealed that the markings went down to just above the king’s knees.
His expression awful to behold, Alistair lifted a set chin and stepped into his tub. He was a big man, and took up most of it, more than the other two men in theirs. Water slushed over the edge onto the floor and sluiced down into the floor set drain.
It was silent in the room for a time, Teagan trying to hide a grin in his mug, Zevran ignoring the wine so thoughtfully provided for him by their hosts, his eyes still apparently closed as he relaxed in the hot water.
“Alright,” Alistair huffed again, “Go head.”
Teagan’s pent up laughter was released in a whoop. Zevran opened his eyes and leaned a smiling face atop arms laid on the rolled edge of the tub. “My friend,” he said with silent laughter radiating, “Can you of all people not see the humor of this?”
“I could if it were happening to someone else,” Alistair admitted, “You would carry it off without blushing.”
“This is true,” Zevran smirked, “But I have experience, and am less likely to become a married man.”
Alistair shot him an anxious look, “Is this a married thing, then? Because W...I … I’ve never had anyone do this to me before.”
Teagan paused in his laughter, “I don’t know about it being a married thing, but young men come in from the haystacks with those on their necks, Alistair,” and the laughter bubbled out of him again before, “Alistair, I’m afraid that Anora is either being very possessive, or has become some form of fanged undead,” and the laughter returned.
Zevran looked smug, “This is a matter for rejoicing, Alistair. In only three months time you have gone from Anora refusing to hold your hand in public to a very obvious declaration that you belong to her.
When did she manage to do all of this? You were not so marked when we sparred two days ago,” Zevran commented.
Alistair shot an annoyed look at the elf and muttered something about a ‘damned book’.
Zevran, still smirking, closed is eyes for a moment and remembered a conversation with the Queen of Ferelden only a week back. “Arainai!” Anora’s imperious voice had called to him in a lonely hallway of the palace, “I would like to speak with you.”
“Always I am at your whim,” Zevran had then made an elaborate courtesy.
Anora closed the distance while her inevitable armed escort remained at the far end of the hall. Holding a small folded piece of fine paper up between two fingers Anora said, “I expect that you will know how to provide these. Discretely. Do so.”
Zevran took the paper, opened it and looked at the list. The assassin paused before saying carefully, “An interesting list,” then slowly, “Yes, I can find these for you,” then even more slowly, “You... will be careful with...”
How to finish that statement? With Alistair?
When Anora replied it seemed difficult for her to begin, “Zevran,” she stuttered over his name, “I am not going to hurt him.”
To Zevran’s cocked eyebrow Anora rushed on, “I mean, I’m not going to humiliate him. He’s already been broken enough in *that* respect, don’t you agree?
We’re just going to try some things... “ then weightily, “from... The Book.”
Zevran had nodded his head respectfully, “It shall be as you say.”
Anora had swallowed hard, “Thank you. Zevran.”
Yes, Zevran had a good idea of many things that Anora and Alistair had been up to two nights ago. Opening his eyes the former Crow said cheerfully, “Her Majesty sent me shopping last week. Did you enjoy yourselves?”
Clean and more relaxed, Alistair Thierin, King of Ferelden and Gray Warden racked his armor on the stand in the room provided. It was a relatively small room compared to the palace, and relatively large when compared to anywhere else. There were Fereldens, Alistair reflected, whose houses were smaller than this room. The bed, a feather mattress on rope springs, looked comfortable and was covered with a hand worked quilt in the inevitable Mabari Pattern with the heraldic colors of Ferelden. Alistair pressed down on the bed and released a scent of dried lavender, used to keep insects out of storage chests.
There was no bathing chamber in the room. Instead an alcove held the armor stand, weapon racks on either side, a chest beyond. The polished, dust free wooden floors were covered by colorful braided rag rugs. A vanity, desk and chair, bedside table, and bookrack completed the furnishings, all made of native wood. The ubiquitous A Rose of Orlais, a Tale of the Black Fox, and one of the Aveline tales were stowed on the bookshelf next to a complete version of the Chant of Light. Either someone in Rainesfere loved to read or these books were displayed as wealth.
Alistair finished chores with his equipment, reveling in the lack of attendants, before carefully removing Anora’s favor from his armor. Running the golden silk through his fingers, the smooth softness catching on his sword callouses, Alistair chose a book from the shelf at random. Opened, the flyleaf proclaimed in cramped script that the book was a gift from Gwilliam to his beloved Wife Moree.
Propping himself up on pillows, back to the headboard, Alistair sat and opened the volume to the Canticle of Threnodies. Settling down to the soothing, well known words, Anora’s golden favor twined through his fingers, Alistair read.
Anora Mac Tyr Theiren Theiran, Queen of Ferelden stared up at the dark red fabric hanging above her from post to post. The bed felt too big. Stretching out to take up as much room as she could, Anora was not able to reach the bottom, even splayed out among the pillows she had piled around her. Alistair liked that his feet had not hung over the edge of the bed. Alistair had stories of shared rooms from the Spoiled Princess to the Gnawed Noble, and many of those involved beds too small for a man over six feet tall.
Anora had never stayed in an inn. Trips made for Ferelden in her position as queen had all included suites in minor or major palaces. Visits of State within the country had entailed stays in estates or lodges, some of them self-described as ‘rustic’. If accommodations were too countrified, then the massive tents that Cailan and her father had fancied were used. Camp beds scarcely less comfortable than the furniture at the palace were hauled on mules in the baggage train.
Prior to becoming affianced to Cailan she and her father had stayed with nobility, building up political ties and making connections. Anora was used to living in someone else’s household. She did not miss Gwaren as such. It had been a lonely childhood, and Anora was well aware that she had isolated herself. Difficult not to when your parents informed you that you were to become Queen, married to King Maric’s only child, and that you must be careful about ties that could be used politically. Anora had learned about politics early.
Alistair had refused to take the King’s gear on this state visit. That small canvas cocoon of a tent was fit for only a single body, though her husband had assured her that two could fit if they were cozy and did Anora “want to come along after all?”
Anora still felt confused, perhaps conflicted was a better term, about Alistair Thierin, King of Ferelden and her second husband. Conflict was, at least, what she thought the feeling was. Good King Alistair they called him, Friend to all things Ferelden and terror of Dark Spawn.
The Queen’s spymaster had said her own popularity with the common folk had risen since her marriage. The people saw how much the king “loved her” and gave Anora credit for much more they had not seen in her before. The nobility had though to exploit what they saw as a weak link in Alistair.
After a few false starts, those had been thwarted by his outright shows of devotion and support to her role as queen. Alistair was learning as quickly as could be expected for a former stableboy. No, for he had learned much in the Chantry, and studying to be a Templar. Truthfully, politics were a subject that Alistair had little aptitude or liking for. Still, he tried. For Ferelden. And for her.
Anora had watched from the Royal balcony as the horsemen made their way through the enormous courtyard of the palace. She was able to discern the slighter figure of Zevran Arainai among the bulky more heavily armored men. Of the others, Teagan was identified by the symbol of Redcliff on his shield.
The Queen picked her husband from the crowd last, his armor only slightly more elaborate as he’d refused Cailan’s golden panoply, and insisted on retaining Duncan’s shield. On his right arm was the favor she’d tied there before bestowing a chaste and entirely appropriate kiss upon her husband before he and the others mounted to leave.
The group faced the gathered crowd, and a young noblewoman stepped out of the packed mass of people with a strip of red cloth, a favor. Anora could see her husband shake his head, no, indicating the golden favor on his arm. The queen could imagine his gentle smile as he refused her, and the others after.
Deprived of the chance to favor the King, the girls and women took their offerings to the men behind tAlistair. Anora noted that Arainai had quite a few favors of his own already, and received the lions share of those refused by Alistair, though Teagan had quite a few.
Cailan’s horse had always looked like it was decorated for Satinalia when he led a troop, covered with favors from all manner of women. Anora noted that Alistair, with his plain mail and single favor, stood out among the troop. It was noticeable, the difference, and Anora approved of it.
The Queen gave a deep sigh and curled up among the pillows, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
Alistair woke up to darkness and silence, the remains of a dream, and the sure knowledge that he needed to get up now. Pulling the padding for his armor on after his breeches he moved more or less silently into the hallway, gave a quiet knock with two knuckles on Zevran’s door and softly said, “Darkspawn,” before moving to Teagan’s door to repeat the actions more loudly.
Retreating to his room to start the process of encasing himself in metal, he gave directions as soon as the men joined him. “Teagan, would you notify the Bann that we have a band of darkspawn approaching from the East. Not large, but not small. I can’t give a more accurate count. Our troop will go out to meet it. Does the Bann want to join us, or would he prefer to lead?”
There was no question that one of the Banns would take advantage of the presence of a Gray Warden when darkspawn appeared, but there were courtesies. Teagan nodded and headed out into the hallway. “Zevran?” Alistair did not really need to ask, but it was always a nice touch.
“I have notified the guard and the scouts. They are preparing,” Zevran, already fully armed and armored went on, “So discourteous of the darkspawn to interrupt our sleep.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Alistair grinned, “We wouldn’t want life to be boring, now would we?”
The Bann joined them, and his eldest daughter to Alistair’s surprise. The Bann’s wife, her round form tightly packed into old leathers that had seen a fair amount of use and armed with a longbow , stayed behind to oversee the defense of the Keep and the surrounding settlement. In the pre-dawn darkness Alistair could see nervous energy and excitement in the daughter, Eleanor, who shyly shared a water flask and the information that this was only her third fight against the darkspawn.
Alistair treated her as he would any other fighter. He had to, although he briefly considered asking Zevran to assign a scout to keep an eye on her. No, that sort of thinking would get them both killed. Let her win her honors, as her father wished.
It was a long, nasty fight through the woods. Alistair knew they were there, but in return the darkspawn knew he was as well. Or rather that a Gray Warden was in the area. It was past dawn when every fighter returned to the keep to a rather large breakfast, and the certain knowledge that Gwilliam and his were strongly supportive of a King willing to stand beside them in a fight.
“Hm,” Alistair thought as we went to sleep that night, Anora’s favor twined through his fingers, “I can do this!”
Chapter 5: Learning
Anora makes a discovery.
Something was going on, but Anora could not put her finger on what or who was or were behind the incidents. Astra, youngest rotten wastrel of a daughter to the Bann of Waking Sea, how Anora loathed the woman, had been caught in an extremely compromising position with the spoiled son in law of one of the wealthier merchants in Denerim.
There was no possibility of covering up the affair, and there were rumors that Astra’s exceedingly wealthy older husband had petitioned the Chantry for a divorce on the grounds of adultery. Anora happened to know that the rumors were true, since the Ferelden Royal spymaster was very good indeed and had several ears posted fairly high within the Chantry hierarchy. Astra and her lover were socially and financially ruined.
Anora thought of that tart Astra pushing forward with a floral favor to gift Alistair when he left on his trip to the Bannorn two months gone. Alistair had refused favors from any but Anora, and continued to do so. Anora continued to take great satisfaction from it.
It was not Astra’s sly attempts at flirtation with King Alistair. He flirted with no one, but Anora. Anora still found this disconcerting. Alistair’s bodyguards seemed to be in the way whenever Astra approached him now, after the first time she propositioned him early on in his reign. At the time Astra had been wearing a low cut gown, but her golden hair had been done up in the style that was Anora’s. According to Anora’s spies she had been icily rebuffed.
Trying for both of them, Astra? Anora’s growl was entirely internal. Astra had been a great favorite of Cailan’s and was one of those who had carefully contrived to have Anora find out about the affair. The oddity was that her ruined lover was also one of Cailan’s, a pretty young man, Cailan’s sparring partner, who had managed to have a hand on her first husband whenever Anora was present.
Anora realized that it was with a sense of relief that she received this information. These were people that she had been polite to... and seemingly oblivious to their past behavior in court. It would not do to make a scene, no matter how Astra had struggled to bring one off. Anora had bitten the inside of her cheek enough when dealing with either of them, something that Alistair’s sharp eyes had noticed the first time he had attended a ball as her escort a month and a half into their marriage. He had not asked at the time, had mentioned it later, and she had given him the acid truth.
In any case, there was a pattern here, a series of incidents. Names that kept cropping up in the spymaster’s reports. Unfortunate events were occurring among some of the bright young set of Denerim. There was the issue with a shipment of tainted Orlesian lotions that had ruined the complexion of several of Cailan’s favorites right before the Satinalia festivities. One exceedingly proud older woman had made some unwise statements at a salon, only to discover that her rival had heard every word - the rival had been discussing wool shipments with the King screened by the potted Antivan palms that were currently the rage in Denerim society. Anora remembered that Alistair had looked extremely embarrassed to be caught in between the two women.
Anora paged through the reports. Every one of these minor incidents had happened to someone who had been rude to Anora within the last five months. No, that was not quite correct. People were angry with the ruler, people disagreed with her (sometimes quite volubly) on policy, but none of those were listed here.
This list was all of Cailan’s former lovers. Some of the incidents were merely slight stings, uncomfortable, but not disastrous. The worst had happened to those who had been mean, harmful to the Queen, or offensively malicious in a way that she could not address.
Alistair. No, it could not have been Alistair, some of these were people that he had never met, and Anora had never told him about. He wouldn’t have known. Then it struck her, Arainai. No, Alistair and Arainai. There was a momentary sharp pang of anger that Arainai would be spying on her. That Alistair would have set Arainai to spy on her, for although Arainai was perfectly capable of choosing to dig up mud on anyone he desired, it would not be in such a thorough fashion, not without a reason. Arainai had no reason to spy on Anora save to protect Alistair, after these months, Anora knew that.
And why would Alistair do this? Anora knew the answer to that, though she had fought it in the past. Alistair was fond of her. Alistair had feelings for her. Alistair had a very rigid notion of what was right and wrong. And Alistair was punishing these people for being cruel to her, Anora.
Not because she was queen, although that might be part of it, Alistair could get righteously indignant when her office was treated with disrespect. He didn't often get offended when he as king was treated similarly. It was because these people had hurt his wife. Of whom he was fond. And Arainai went right along with Alistair's no doubt creative ideas and perhaps even pushed them a little further than Alistair would have gone alone.
That was an odd pairing, one Anora had thought of often in the past months. Why would an Antivan Crow, well, former Antivan Crow, bind himself to Alistair of all people. They were not lovers, that much was obvious. Zevran Arainai did not look at Alistair with the eyes of a man being bedded. Correcting herself, Anora thought, not being bedded by Alistair. Though Arainai had worked his way through an astonishing number of the court and staff in the palace, and spent his free time in the Alienage and elsewhere in the lower dives of Denerim. His choices of who was deserving of his attention were also unexpected, sometimes surprising and disconcerting.
Arainai’s “scouts” had grown in the past months as well. The Antivan was training a small group of men and women, twenty at the moment, to gather information, but also to withhold it. They were learning about poisons, Alistair had told Anora about that, how to disable an enemy, how to withstand torture, how to kill as quietly as possible. Arainai had told Anora himself that these were not assassins, they were, as he put it, bodyguards that would not look the part. Zevran, Alistair insisted, was not betraying Crow secrets in this training.
Anora’s chambermaid was one of Arainai’s scouts, a very mousy young elvhen lass from the Alienage who was the model of discretion. If at least half of the scouts were elvhen, then that worked, or so the spymaster had counseled Anora. Servants from the Alienages were everywhere throughout Ferelden and Thedas, and these were people that would be overlooked. Anora had received a request from the spymaster when Arainai had approached him with the idea in the first place.
Zevran Arainai could have gone with Theron Maheriel to Amaranthine. He could have gone to Orlais with that trollop Leliana, or anywhere with any one of Theron’s clan. That he had chosen to remain at Alistair’s side said something, but Anora was never quite sure what. Was it because he could rise in service to the King of Ferelden? If so, wouldn’t he be better served to treat Alistair with more deference? There were times when Anora had heard the elf speak quite sharply to the King, usually something to do with security, either hers or Alistair’s. Alistair never seemed to mind. He had told Anora that he trusted the Antivan. That they were friends. And that was that apparently. Though it was a funny sort of friendship, unlike any of her father’s friends, or King Maric’s... or Cailan’s.
Alistair, in an unguarded moment, had told Anora that he was building his own family, Theron had started it, and some of them were closer than others. Alistair was not close to Eamon, though he respected the man and gave him all courtesy. The King was close to Teagan, Eamon’s brother, now Arl of Redcliff. It was a good connection for the crown to have, as Teagan’s support meant that many of the Bannorn had thrown in with Alistair and Anora.
Alistair was in correspondence with Theron, and through him Oghren the Dwarven Gray Warden. There was now a Qunari embassy in Denerim, though it was a small affair with few staff, and apparently only there to answer a question given by the Arishok. It was Alistair’s attempt to give honor to the Sten who had fought darkspawn with them.
Yes, Alistair was in correspondence with Leliana, who had returned to the Chantry. Or rather Arainai was in correspondence, and Alistair on occasion sent good wishes, or a pair of Ferelden boots. This was, apparently, some form of joke between them all.
It was funny, Anora thought, that except for Zevran Arainai and Theron Maheriel, the two Elvhen of Theron’s clan, all contact with the others was indirect. Leliana through Arainai, Oghren through Theron, the Sten through his embassy, and Wynne, Alistair’s first lover, through the contacts at the circle. Anora was not counting Shale in this, as the Golem was with Wynne, and not a correspondent, except when she had sent a bale of feathers to Alistair for Satinalia.
Certainly, Alistair was cut off. If he went drinking or “adventuring” (as he called it) it was with Teagan, Arainai, and Captain Kylon on occasion. He had acquaintances at court, but not really any friends. If he talked of an evening it was with Arainai or Anora.
This led to the unpleasant introspection that Anora had even fewer “friends” than Alistair. She had an easy relationship with her spymaster, and a comfortable working relationship with her advisors and subordinates such as the seneschal or chatelaine. None of them were friends. The only person she had talked to besides Cailan had been her father. They were both dead, and now she had only Alistair.
Of course, she enjoyed talking to Alistair. This was a revelation, actually.
Anora enjoyed talking and being with Alistair.
She didn’t think it was just the sex either, which was good, though an heir had not as yet appeared.
Perhaps their friendship was why Arainai bothered her so much. Something to think upon.
Time for bed. Anora put her reports and papers away in the locked chest, and left her study to join her husband.
Chapter 6: Grieving
The fact that Alistair did not step back when she growled and threw the vase made Anora more angry. He hadn’t even really dodged it, just moved a little and let it pass him by. To be truthful, she hadn’t thrown it at him, had not even known he was standing there in the doorway until she had turned, in the process of throwing the ornament, and let it go, unable to stop, and too furious to feel sorry or ashamed.
“Well?” she shouted, “What do you want?”
“Why are you throwing vases?” he asked, his voice humorous, which enraged her further.
Big, handsome, able to move quickly on his feet even in armor, Alistair looked ready to dodge if she threw something else. “You!” Anora continued shouting, “YOU are the problem!
Your damned Gray Wardens, damned darkspawn, damned blight, damned KING of Ferelden!”
She could see Alistair take that deep breath before he said neutrally, “I am not sure I see what you are angry about. If there is a problem, it would help me to know what I’ve done so that I can…fix it.”
Then that blighted sense of humor, as her husband grinned, “Ooooor, I could go find all the ugly vases in the palace for you to finish off.”
“Along with all the other things you want?” Anora began shaking she was so upset, “I can’t possibly live up to your expectations. Yours and everyone else’s,” Anora saw Alistair start toward her.
She knew he was going to try to sooth her, to hold her, to give her the support he had so often offered in the past. Support that weakened her, made her dependent on him. Gave him control over her. It was so much easier to say exactly what she knew would get under that armor, “You don’t belong here. I should never have agreed to marry you. “
Alistair stopped dead.
“Not that I had any choice at all, I was forced. I want you to remember that. Every day that we are married, I want you to remember that I was forced to marry you, and that will never ever change.
Do you understand?” Anora knew that last vicious shout had hit home, that she had hurt him, and while part of her was angry and pleased to have that power, another part inside cringed when she saw him flinch as if actually struck.
“Go ahead,” Anora’s voice was poisonous, “Tell me now how you defer to my experience as Queen,“ it was something Alistair said when they disagreed on policy.
Alistair’s stiff voice was loud, almost a shout, “What is it that you want, Anora? What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to leave. Leave me alone!” Anora all but screamed at the man before her, “Take your damned …” but what could she say? His fondness for her? His support and comfort? His…love?
That was it in a nutshell. He loved her. How on Thedas could he possibly love her, when they’d only really met a little over six months ago. How could she possibly live up to expectations that included her as a loving wife, mother of a family that had yet to appear, Queen of a country struggling to come back from a blight while dealing with the Tevinter threat and Orlesian conspiracy, with no heir, and darkspawn that refused to go away, Antivan Crows in the capitol, a Circle of Magi in flux, and … a man who held her while she was sleeping and told her he loved her.
Soon enough he would say it when she was awake, when she would have to give him a response, and it frightened her. Getting frightened did no good unless you were angry and motivated to make something change. Anora could see no way to go.
Love was not the wonderful thing that the romance novels made it. Love was pain. Love was expectations that you could not possibly fulfill. Love was losing control. Love was failure. Anora knew love, she had loved her first husband, and look how that had ended. All the people that Anora had loved, her father, her mother, Cailan, they were all dead.
“Just go away, Alistair,” Anora’s voice was cold, for all that it still shook.
Alistair turned on his heel and swiftly left, and she could hear his footsteps, not running, but echoing nonetheless down the hall and away.
Leaving the shards of vase where they were, Anora went to her spymaster. With the cold calmness that she was known for she gave him orders, “Send someone after the King. I want to know where he goes, whom he sees, and what he says.
Send someone that he doesn’t know, and someone that Arainai doesn’t know.”
Anora was aware that she now sounded harsh, “I want someone more than competent. Choose someone who is not going to get caught.”
The man nodded respectfully, and though his eyes were full of questions, he kept them to himself, “Yes, your Majesty. At once.”
Alistair was angry. Alistair was confused. Angry and confused were not a good combination as he was well aware. If he stayed in Denerim he knew he was going to say something that he would regret. It was entirely possible that he would say them to Anora, but it was probable that he would say something to someone else, and that would be even worse. Alistair knew that he had difficulty keeping his mouth shut. Alistair had thought that he was improving. He had thought that everything was improving, that his behavior as king had gotten better, that he was less likely to say inappropriate things at inopportune moments, that Anora did not detest him anymore, that…
If he said some of the things that were flying through his mind, they would never be unsaid. “Like the things that Anora just said?” it was as though he could hear himself walking and speaking beside him down the hallway to the stables, “How could she say that? What did I do to set that off?
Did I deserve that?“
It was true. Which was what made it worse. It was all true. Anora had been forced to marry Alistair. That Alistair had been forced to marry Anora was also true, but he had consented to the plan. Anora had consented as well. They were adults, and the majority of marriages were not for love, they were business or political arrangements. They had known what they were getting in to.
Alistair had set out to fall in love with Anora. He wanted to love his wife. He had succeeded. Which meant that he had given her the ability to hurt him, and he had done it of his own free will. And he Hurt. She had hurt him, and she had done it deliberately, he had seen it in her eyes when she’d told him not to forget that he had forced himself on her. That thought, that he had forced himself on Anora, not that she had tried to hurt him, made Alistair sick to his stomach.
Alistair had never tried to be Cailan, Anora’s first husband, and the resentment he felt at having to compete with the King, as he still thought of him, was there, percolating under the surface. Alistair had liked King Cailan well enough, though he’d had more respect for Loghaine as a warrior. When Cailan had died at Ostagar it had been a blow. That was more because the King of Ferelden had died, and less because he was Alistair’s half-brother. Alistair had never planned on a family relationship with the man. He had never planned on being married to his half-brother’s widow until Theron had decided it.
Eamon had just wanted to put Alistair on the throne, not Anora. Theron had seen the necessity of Anora’s continuing role as Queen. And as Alistair had said then, and thought still, Anora was a good Queen. She had always seemed to thrive in the job.
The things that Alistair had found out about Cailan since he had joined the Gray Wardens had not been easy to take, let alone understand. The things Alistair had learned about the man since his marriage to Anora had enraged him. Yes, Alistair was aware that men, and women too, took their pleasures lightly, and adultery was rampant. Why should he expect better of the nobility, of the king? Especially with Alistair’s background. His own father had …”
Alistair was giving orders and saddling his own horse, which took his own mind off of Maric and his mother, a star struck serving girl, for the moment. The stable boys were used to him now. They didn’t always stand behind him wishing he would let them do their job, or at least not as they used to. None of them knew that Alistair had been a stable boy. He knew them. He had been one of them. Sharing out pastries from the royal kitchen had not hurt his reputation among these least of the servants, nor did his largesse when it came to silver coins for backing off and letting Alistair do his own dirty work.
It was less time than might be expected before he was on the road, a troop behind him. Alistair was going to look for darkspawn, or bandits, or a fight that he could win.
Anora had noticed that the halls of the palace were suspiciously empty of any person who was able to disappear. The guards were silent and it crossed her mind that they were trying to be invisible. The servants were gone. The Chatelaine merely said that she had assigned them to items that needed attending, and if they were all at their jobs, it was well, and “Did your Majesty need anything?”
The court was empty, which felt odd. Upon questioning, the guard at the throne room said that her Seneschal had moved everyone out, declaring that their majesties were not seeing anyone for that day. Anora’s desk was suspiciously clear of anything demanding her attention, and the chest that held reports from the spymaster was vacant. She had cleared that last night. Before bed, and before Alistair had…
Anora was not one of those stupidly noble men or women who thought they alone ruled by fiat. A true ruler knows that they are at the head of a very large team of people, and as such are responsible for their behavior. Micromanagement is not a good way to run a palace or a country. Right now Anora was feeling that a few more people might make the atmosphere less eerie, and would give her less time to think about what she had just done.
The Queen felt sick to her stomach after the fire storm of emotion, and in reaction to the things she had said. Now that the fire of anger and frustration had left her Anora was cold.
Catching sight of herself in the standing mirror of her bedroom Anora thought she was seeing a ghost. She was pale, a pallor greater than her normal clear skin, white from spending so much time indoors. The paleness made her eyes looked bruised, dark circles around her usually clear gaze. Her golden hair bound in the traditional Ferelden braids was immaculate with not a hair out of place. There was a tray of food in the anteroom, soup, and bread and cheese cut small, a pot of tea still hot, invalid food. Anora ate it anyway, and paged through the books piled next to her chair.
Standing at last she passed through her bedroom and opened the smooth dark wooden door of the hallway to Alistair’s room. She knew that he had left. She understood that he had taken a troop of men with him and ridden out. Her spies had not returned as yet, or she would have heard. The confined hallway, short and with shelves and cupboards along either side, was dark. To the left was a chest that belonged to Alistair. He did not have much in the way of possessions. His room was spare, anything that was decorative or distinctive in there had been there when he moved into it. That might have been a result of his Chantry and Templar training. It might have been something else. The man was not avaricious. Alistair had told her that the reason for the emptiness was because the palace servants removed anything that they felt was not appropriate, or his armor and weapons would have been in there too.
Lifting the heavy lid, he had left it unlocked, Anora found it mostly empty. The scrap of golden silk she had tied to his armor as her favor two months ago was there. It had faded to almost a butter color, but had been folded carefully. Below it she found a dried rose. Lifting it to her nose, she could still smell the memory of its sweet fragrance. Anora wondered if his lover had given it to him. Was this a memento of Wynne? Alistair had said once in passing that Wynne was more likely to smell of Elfroot than anything else. He had been approving of Anora’s taste in perfume, light, but smelling of traditional Ferelden flowers like rose and lavender.
She found a fairly new cloth puppet, of all things, the griffon symbol on the blue chest, was it a Gray Warden? There were stones and amulets with runic markings, some worn, others with the feel of antiquity. At the bottom was a broken, but mended medal of Andraste. Anora knew that this had been his mother’s, but not the story behind it. Tucked in the side and tied with a bit of ribbon were letters from Theron Maheriel. Trapped between those was another bit of ribbon holding a lock of golden hair. It was not until Anora smelt the lavender that she realized it was her own hair.
Was this all? Did the man truly have nothing else but these and the books he kept by the side of the bed and his armor and weapons? Was the sum of Alistair Theirin’s life able to be carried in a pack?
There was a sound. Anora had heard something, and waited until she heard it again. Glass?
Opening the King’s door, she walked through the bedroom and looked out into the room beyond. It was lit from a small fire in the fireplace, and Zevran Arainai was sitting in one of the chairs, pouring amber liquid into a crystal tumbler. There was no way the Antivan Crow did not know she was there. “Why are you here, Arainai, and not with your Master?” Anora said coldly.
“His Majesty,” was the man emphasizing that? “Did not wish for me to accompany him.
King Alistair allows me to keep my Antivan brandy here, as it is better to drink with company, and we often share a glass together. Would you like one?” the elf looked at her politely, for all the world as though it were normal to offer her a drink, to be receiving her in Alistair’s rooms, as if he were not all too aware that Anora had screamed at the King, who had ridden off and left her. As she had requested.
Taking her silence for assent, apparently, the Antivan poured a second glass and left it on the table, turning to contemplate the fire and sip at the strong liquor. Anora looked at it, and at him. She seated herself before the fire, at the edge of the chair with her back straight, lifting the glass to breathe in the scent before taking a sip. Zevran noticed it with approval.
“What do you want?” Anora was nominally back in control, although she avoided use of his name.
“I? I am having a drink,” Zevran raised his glass for a mouthful to illustrate, then settled back into the padded chair gracefully.
There was quiet for some time before Zevran spoke again, “If I may ask, your Majesty? What is it that you want?”
“What do I want?”
“Yes,” a simple response to her repetition of his question.
“I want,” Anora said, “to be free of expectations. Yours. Ferelden’s. The Landsmeet’s. The Nobility. The Commoners. The Mabari in the kennels. Alistair’s. I can not meet them all.
And I am tired of trying to do so.”
Zevran made an “ah” sort of noise, then looked down into his glass, “And your own expectations?”
“Of Alistair?” Anora was confused, but she knew that if it was Zevran Arainai asking it must refer to her husband in some way.
“For yourself,” came the reply.
“I don’t know what you mean, Arainai,” Anora looked away, but there was nothing really in this room to catch the eye, to rest a gaze on meaningfully.
“I am Zev to my friends,” the Antivan said, as he poured from the crystal decanter to refill her glass, then his own, “My words were exact. What are your expectations for yourself? But if you wish clarification, how do they differ from the expectations of these others you mention.”
“Do you have many friends?” Anora found herself asking the horribly inappropriate personal question.
Zevran smiled slightly and shook his head, “I have a number. A few in Antiva, who would be likely to try to kill me when we next meet. Theron Maheriel, as you know. Alistair. Others are scattered about Thedas like fall leaves in a wind storm.
One should choose friends carefully. Like brandy, it is not the quantity that is important, it is the quality. The flavor.”
Anora laughed sharply and took another sip, “What flavor is Alistair.”
Zevran appeared to give that careful consideration. “Alistair is not like brandy. He is like strawberries and cream. A dish that is healthful, sweet, but not to everyone’s taste, certainly.
Morrigan and he loathed one another. At one point I heard that he called her a ‘sneaky witch thief’, although he apologized after when he found she had not, in fact, stolen anything.
You do not wish to answer my question?”
“I don’t know how to answer your question,” Anora finally leaned back in her chair.
“Tell me,” Zevran said slowly as though rolling the words in his mouth, tasting them, “What you think my expectations of you to be.”
“You?” Anora took a large mouthful of the brandy, “I think you expect me to hurt Alistair.”
“Indeed,” Zevran said thoughtfully, “That is more in the nature of a given than an expectation on my part. You are married. You are lovers. You will hurt each other.
And if you did not, there would be no life there. Life is often painful.”
Anora laughed, “You are saying that life is not like a fairy tale.”
The Antivan assassin gave her the look, with one eyebrow raised and an expression of amusement on his handsome tattooed face, “I have found that life is exactly like many fairy tales. Painful, full of death and dark woods and frightening curses that separate lovers until they work to redeem their love and right their mistakes.”
Anora closed her eyes at the pang in her chest. Opening them she tried for nonchalance, “Then you are saying that life is not like an Orlesian Romance?”
“Ah, there you have me. Life is not very much like any Orlesian Romance,” Zevran refilled their glasses, “Nor like any Ferelden one that Alistair might have been writing. With their happy endings after little or no hard work. Or little or no investment by the characters.”
They sat in silence for a time, Zevran apparently contemplating literature and sipping, Anora hurting and drinking. “So you see,” Zevran continued from some time ago, “My expectations of you are not what you had thought. For I have none for you. No expectations of Queen Anora Mac Tyr Theiren Theiren of Ferelden. Nor any of King Alistair Theiren of Ferelden.
My expectations are actually all of Zevran Arainai.
And … quite possibly a few are set for the Antivan Crows. But that is for a later time.”
Standing in a fluid motion the assassin stretched, then bent down to pour another glassful for each of them. Raising his glass as though in a toast, he tossed it down his throat, then, “Goodnight, your Majesty.”
“Goodnight,” Anora said as he left the room, and when the door had closed behind him, “Zev.”
Alistair and his men rode west. there must have been a reason, possibly because it was the opposite direction from Amaranthine, Theron Maheriel and the Gray Wardens. The King sensed no darkspawn in any direction. The land was worked more sparsely in this area. The “men” in the patrol, male and female, were all, if not boys and girls, a collection of inexperienced new guardsmen freshly recruited to the King’s service. It was a common practice for such to be taken out on the Ferelden roads bandit hunting for seasoning. It was not common for Alistair to be the commanding officer of such an expedition. After all, bad things happened when Alistair led.
Alistair was fairly sure that none of them would end up drunk and pantsless on this trip, as all Alistair wanted was to do something he was good at. Fighting required focus. He would not be able to play through the scene with Anora over and over and over if he was in battle.
Except that the roads were clear. Alistair had the second in command, Sergeant Dayard, do the speaking when they encountered people. His helmet and plain armor were enough disguise. No one would expect King Alistair on a bandit patrol. The guards had been told not to reveal his identity. Alistair would have preferred that they wouldn’t treat him as if they were afraid he was going to madly start swinging his sword at shadows or at any of them at any minute. The King was not certain if his expression was that grim, or if it was his being the king that frightened them. Alistair had the vague hope that he could lop off at least one head, just one.
But the farmers and traders all claimed that the roads were clear and safe and wasn’t it all due to Queen Anora and King Alistair that a Ferelden could travel in safety these days. That may have been due to the Denerim royal insignia on their equipment. If anything, Alistair’s expression got bleaker when they heard paeans to Good King Alistair.
The patrol was enjoying it though. Fine weather and a quiet ride instead of barracks duty was what anyone could enjoy. Along about noon that changed. They were watering themselves and their horses at a village commons when a man ran stumbling up to them, “Maker’s Mercy! An armed patrol! Andraste herself must have sent you!”
Something was attacking the man’s livestock. “Bear or wolves,” Sergeant Dayard agreed with Alistair after a quiet discussion. Far be it for them to refuse help where it was needed. Alistair shrugged. He had killed both in his time.
Except that the first dead bullock, lying by a busy stream, had gouges clawed out of the thick neck and side, and most of the viscera gone entirely in a scoop made by very large teeth. The second was missing back legs, and when they turned it over there were scorch and burn marks. This was even before examination of the prints driven into the soft bottom land confirmed.
“Dragon,” thought Alistair with surprisingly little emotion.
“Dragon,” the sergeant said in a dry, matter of fact tone.
“Dragon!” muttered the recruits, one of them with the cracking voice of an adolescent boy.
Soon after the sergeant corrected himself, “Dragons.”
“What?” Alistair said, then, “Oh. Oh, I see. That explains why they’re here.”
For the clustered group of worried faces the sergeant indicated two left rear foot prints, one missing half the foot, the other whole, one slightly larger than the other. “Probably a mated pair,” he explained, “One is damaged. They came here from the Dragonbone Wastes probably looking for easier prey.”
“How do we track something that flies?” it was the earnest voice of one of the female guards.
“It looks as though they launched from here... we’ll head in that direction. Spread apart in search formation, five yards apart,” at the sergeant’s instruction the guards moved out.
The dragons, when they found their nest, had denned in a small cave under a ridge above the wood. Neither was in the den, so the patrol surrounded the hole and sat down to wait. The fight, when it came, was nasty. Swords are not the weapons of choice for dragon killing, whatever the stories tell you. Alistair was glad for guardsmen familiar with short bows and crossbows, while he plied his sword and Duncan’s shield. There were burns, cuts and slashes, but in the end two dead dragons and no dead humans.
Alistair, without explanation, directed the removal of both heads, which were wrapped and loaded on a horse borrowed, rented rather “but at a discount for saving my farm!” from the farmer. A heap of dragon eggs were packed into sacks to bring with them. Dragon eggs would fetch a decent price from the Circle.
As dusk fell the patrol started back toward Denerim. The young soldiers chattering, thrilled with their part in a dragon hunt. Sergeant Dayard discussing their actions with Alistair, seemed pleased overall, though he had given each guard his observations and suggestions for further training. Alistair thought that Dayard seemed more comfortable with him now, and the patrol was not so frightened of him. It was something positive, Alistair guessed, and none of them had lost any articles of clothing, another positive.
It was very late when they returned to the palace.
Alistair put off leaving the stable until he no longer had any excuse. A bath took still more time, and he almost fell asleep in the hot water, but after that he was unsure of where to go. His own rooms, Alistair guessed. There was no room for him in Anora’s bed.
Maker only knew what rumors would start if he slept in Zevran’s room, entirely devoid of Zevran as he discovered, and to sleep anywhere else was to invite gossip as well.
The halls were strangely empty in spite of the hour as the King made his way to the royal quarters and opened the door. A small fire was flickering in the grate, and Alistair could smell Antivan brandy. Zevran must have been here, might still be. Alistair did not want to wake an Antivan Crow up precipitously, as he had the desire to continue living.
It was not Zevran in his chair though. The brandy was in the decanter on the table, and a single glass, half full, sat next to it. Anora, her head leant against the padded wing of the chair, was sound asleep, and her steady breathing, heavily charged with alcohol, did not change when Alistair gave her a gentle shake. The faded favor was clutched in her hand.
Sighing Alistair picked his wife up carefully to take her to her bed. It was at the doorway to the passageway into her bedroom that he discovered a problem. Holding Anora in his arms, Alistair could not carry her through the tiny hall into the next room. There was just no way they would fit, and to even try sideways was to invite banging Anora’s head on something. He stood staring at the door.
If Alistair carried her into the hallway and through her anteroom he would be able to maneuver her through that door and put his wife to bed. When he reached his sitting room he was struck by the realization that it would look extremely odd for him to be carrying his unconscious wife, the Queen of Ferelden, through the castle halls after they had been fighting. It was not possible that anyone in the palace was unaware of it by now. The empty halls would surely have one single person lying in wait now at the least opportune moment.
Sitting down in the padded wing-chair, his wife on his lap, he pulled her up to rest her blonde head on his shoulder. Alistair needed to think. There was no way that he could put Anora into his bed, even though he was sure it was freshly made and ready. Not after the things she had said earlier. And for him to let her sleep in the chair while he went to bed would just be... wrong. His nice, soft bed, with cool linen sheets and warm quilted coverlet.
Alistair shifted Anora to a more comfortable position, for him and for her. Anora made a sound and squirmed around to rub her head into the hollow of his shoulder. Alistair was unsure if she had murmured his name. Best to assume that she had not, even if it did not sound like Cailan’s. Though why was she in his room? Had she been waiting for him? Drinking Zevran’s brandy? Brandy that Alistair could not even reach to for a sip for himself, as his arms were full of sleeping Anora.
Alistair fell asleep.
Anora woke up first. Her neck was stiff, and she was not in her bed. Where was she? Alistair was underneath her, she had no doubts. She knew the feel of his body, and the smell of him. They were sitting up.
Then she remembered yesterday. Anora could feel her body becoming rigid, and Alistair’s arms tightened, pulled her closer, his cheek rubbing against hers, she could feel the stubble. Then Alistair awoke.
The process of his awakening was similar to hers, except that when he realized that Anora was on his lap he almost stood up and dumped her off. The realization that this would occur if he stood caused him to sit back down, but his hands were no longer around her. They were resting on the arms of the chair, tense.
“Yes, Anora? Was there something you wa...that I can do...” swiftly degenerated to a soft, “What?”
“Why are we sitting in your chair?” Anora remembered sitting in this chair, but Alistair had not been beneath her.
Also, she had a slight headache from the drinking. And her neck hurt. And she had been sleeping in her clothing. And she didn’t want to start the Talking.
“I, uh,” Alistair’s soft tone was cautious, “Tried to take you to your bed, but couldn’t get you through the passage.”
“Whn... why are we not sleeping in your bed then?” Anora had the answer to this one, but she wanted to hear what Alistair would say.
“I was pretty sure that you didn’t want to be in my bed, Anora. And I was very sure that you didn’t want me to be in any bed with you,” there was no purchase in Alistair’s voice, no emotion, just soft.
“”So. We are in the chair. Together, instead of a bed,” Anora knew this should be funny.
Perhaps it would be later on. “It’s not,” Anora knew it was the wrong thing to say, “As though we have not had sex in this chair, Alistair.”
She felt his startled movement beneath her. No, he had not been thinking of that at all, and there was nothing Anora could do but start to laugh. And once she started to laugh she could not stop, and then she was laughing and tears were streaming down her face and she found herself wiping them with the scrap of silk. The full scale crying started soon after as the laughter petered out, and Anora felt Alistair’s arms fold around her once again.
Anora did not cry. She had shed tears at Cailan’s funeral, and at her father’s, but there had never been the storm that this was. Anora didn’t think she had cried this hard since she was a child. Eventually she wound down. Eventually she was able to speak, although her breath was coming in gasps, “Alistair?”
“Yes, Anora,” still that soft voice, although there had been a hesitation, as though he might have been about to call her something else.
“Let me up, please,” and Alistair let her stand.
Anora could see that his eyes were red as well, though his face wasn’t wet. “We need to talk,” and Anora could see the flinch, as Alistair braced himself for the blow that he was certain was coming.
By all rights, in the stories she should be kneeling before him, asking forgiveness, begging his pardon. Anora found it impossible to do so. “Alistair,” she began, aware that she sounded less like a penitent and more like a sullen child, and so she started again, “Alistair,” she tried to say it sweetly, but it was still coming out badly.
Finally, “Alistair,” all business, but by this time Alistair was looking at her curiously. This was apparently not what he had been expecting. Expectations.
“What do you expect of me? As your wife?” Anora put her hands behind her back, then switched them to fold in front.
No, this was not what Alistair had been expecting. He sat back into the chair and blinked at her. “Well,” it was almost his normal voice, thoughtful, not that soft emotionless tone, “I expect... I expect that we will work together as King and Queen. For the land and the people,” that sounded almost like a lesson by rote.
But Alistair went on, “I hope that you would tell me if I have done something to hurt you,” Anora could see him swallow, then, “I know that you are... worried about the line of succession.”
Alistair looked away from her, “I … understand that you are not happy with me. I had thought that we had worked our way through your... dislike of me,” his voice was going that soft emotionlessness again, “and I won’t force myself upon you again.
Perhaps we should not worry about childre... an heir. There are other ways to secure a line of succession. I am sure that your advisors can give you the best advice on that.”
Anora heaved a heavy sigh. “No. Alistair,” she started, then stopped.
Taking a deep breath she sat back onto his lap, reached up and turned his face toward hers. They were close now, Alistair looking down at her and struggling to mask the hurt, “Alistair. I was wrong. There has never been a time when you have forced me to do anything. Never. Not ever,” she took another breath, “I want to know from you what you want in a wife.
What would you have said before they sent you to the Templars?”
“Breasts,” Alistair could not help himself.
Laughter came, not painful this time, but because Anora could not help herself either, “Well,” she put her head against his shoulder, “I have those.”
“Wait, you said my expectations yesterday. Is this about what I want?” Alistair’s voice was incredulous, “What is it that you think I want from you?”
“I think you want a wife, and a family, and for me to love you.
I heard you the other night. When you thought I was asleep. You...” now it was Anora’s turn to swallow hard, her voice quiet, “You said ‘I love you Anora'.”
“Ah,” Alistair’s comprehension was palpable, “Tricky things, these confessions to sleeping wives.
I thought you might be upset if I said it to you when you were awake. Turns out I was right about that!
I’ve been saying it for about a month now. You usually sleep right through it.”
“Alistair,” Anora began, “I don’t...”
Her husband interrupted her, something he very rarely did, “That’s the excellent part about having someone love you. It’s a gift given freely. You don’t have to love me back, Anora.
I know that you loved Cailan.”
“No!,” Anora sounded frustrated down there on his chest.
Of all the times for Alistair to be assertive, and he was misunderstanding her. “Alistair, just listen,” she started again, “You’re not like Cailan...”
“No,” Alistair sighed tragically, “Not like Cailan, and I know it. I’m aware that I am not golden and dazzlingly good looking and cheerful and educated in how to be a king and able to speak lordly to an adoring populace.
Just a stable boy raised by flying slobbering dogs from the Anderfels...”
He was interrupted by Anora banging a hand flat against his chest, “No! That’s not what I mean.”
Alistair waited patiently for her now. Anora began again, “With Cailan there was love, and pride and he hurt me so badly. My love was tied up in that. In pride and being hurt and doing my duty and being his Queen.”
There was a pause before she went on, “I have feelings for you Alistair. I just don’t know how to describe them. They’re mostly good, although sometimes,” she growled it, “they are frustrating.”
There was another pause before “And I can’t give you a definite declaration. I may never be able to do that.
You make me laugh. You make me look at my life here and want … I don’t know what I want. I used to know, it was simple. Now I think, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a family and spend time with them, the ruling family, Alistair's and my children’, instead of wishing to be pregnant so I can provide an heir. For Ferelden.
You do make me happy, Alistair. But I worry that I will never be able to give you what you want.”
Alistair kissed Anora on the top of her head, as he was prone to do from time to time. It never failed to make her feel warm. “Anora, what I want is you. I didn’t know it when I married you. I didn’t know it until we started really talking about things, like the midnight lessons on diplomacy, or fetching a bottle of wine from the cellars, " and here he snickered.
"I do know it now. There is nothing you need to do. Nothing you need to change. Or if we change, we do it together. After all, I’m new to all this being married. I expect...” and he used the word deliberately, “that we will work through it all together. There will be change. But ...
I love you, Anora. And it’s alright.”
The scandalized servants gossiped about the Queen of Ferelden leading her husband King Alistair out into the hallway from his room, kissing him “like there was no tomorrow! And in public!” as one page said, before leading him in to her quarters through the front door.
And down in the stable yard the boys were complaining, "What the Void are we supposed to do with these blighted things?"
Chapter 7: Zevran
Well, what did he expect?
The Elvhen male was slender, but well built, tanned, with pale hair braided back from his almost pretty tattooed face. He was standing on the parapet, the highest one he could find, of Denerim’s palace. Since the palace was built on a plateau this was very high indeed, though not as high as the top of Fort Drakon.
Zevran Arainai had no desire to ever return to the roof of Fort Drakon, where he, Theron Maheriel, King (well, he was now) Alistair Theirin of Ferelden, and Wynne of the Circle of Magi had fought against and killed the Arch Demon. Well, Theron had technically killed the horrific dragon with a sword ripping it’s underbelly, the Archdemon being leader of the Blight and a seemingly unlimited army of darkspawn.
Why exactly was he still here in Denerim? The Antivan wondered, this land of mud and dogs, as he had said before. The day was a gray wash of rain over the stone walls and tile rooftops of the city, and Zevran shivered in the chill. Antiva would not be so cold, and would smell infinitely better with its leather industry. Well, maybe it would not smell all that much better, but Zevran had a taste for that overpowering scent.
The Elvhen assassin leapt forward and ran along the parapet for the sheer joy of it, or so he told himself. Death on one side from a drop of hundreds of feet, on the other the startled exclamations of patrolling guards, male and female alike. It wasn’t much of a danger. In fact, it was boring.
Why was he up here? It was time for his daily sparring session with Alistair, and he looked forward, even today, to spending his time with the King. Today though, instead of giving bits and pieces of news that he had picked up that he thought Alistair might be able to use or would make the King laugh, Zevran would have to talk to his friend about a personal issue.
He would have to speak to Alistair about …them. Upheaval was a good thing, Zevran reminded himself. Change kept one from getting soft and tedious.
A vision of feathery tow colored hair and hazel eyes appeared over the gray city of Denerim, and Zevran dropped down to sit on the stone railing, legs dangling over the precipice. He was afraid of those eyes, that hair, the hand on his cheek. Afraid of what they represented.
It did not bode well that the Elvhen worried about people finding out. The Crows, Anora, though Alistair, Zevran thought with a twist to his mouth, would be pleased for him. Pleased.
And then, there were his own expectations, a word full of portent in this association with the “Royal Family”. His expectations had been to leave in the near future to take care of the Crow business, a few dozen deaths should discourage the Crows from hunting him down. Queen Anora had given him license to propose a deal in which Zevran became liaison with the group in Antiva. Zevran had been startled at the idea, but could see how it might work. After a suitable number of deaths, of course.
Giving the great loud sigh of cowardly frustration, Zevran tumbled backward, landed on his feet, and headed down the stone stair for his appointment with the King of Ferelden.
Who was working on sword forms when the assassin arrived, practice strokes that were already so ingrained in the former almost Templar that any other man might give up on them. Alistair liked to be thorough.
The private practice yard was not one of Cailan’s, in fact it was one of a number of courtyards created on roofs of the palace. Alistair preferred privacy, and had taken over a space to the side of the palace, the stone flags strewn with sand, a series of straw manikins serving as targets. This was not a place for archery or crossbow practice, not enough length, but Zevran was able to throw his daggers and knives satisfactorily. A small room was the only access, other than over the wall that went up about thirty feet. Zevran had figured out that they were on the roof of a series of ambassadorial suites that had been empty for as long as Zevran had known of them.
Alistair finished and came over to him, wiping sweat from his forehead,“ Anora has figured out what to do with the rooms beneath this.”
“Yes?” Zevran had no idea what, but Alistair’s grin and the confidential tone of voice betokened something interesting.
“They will be set aside permanently for the Orlesian court. Something to do with the King making noise on their roof. They won’t have the nerve to complain about it when faced with my sword and shield,” Alistair was positively gleeful about the idea.
Zevran smiled briefly then said, “My friend, I must speak with you about something… personal.”
Alistair raised an eyebrow in unconscious imitation of the Antivan, “Yes?”
“I have,” Zevran took a deep breath, “I am…” before, “I received a notice from an acquaintance this morning. She asked me to meet with her at her home in the Alienage.”
“Acquaintance?” Alistair smirked.
“Lover,” Zevran amended, no use in being coy, “I have known Harah for some time, and we had enjoyed one another’s company before the Battle of Denerim.”
“Okay,” Alistair did not see where this was going, but he sounded wary.
“Today she wished to introduce me to my son,” Zevran put the wealth of confusion he was feeling into that last word.
“It was not your decision, Zevran,” Harah’s Dalish accent was stronger when she got emotional, “It is mine.
I chose this.”
“And this is why you wished to see me. You wished to … to tell me…,” Zevran stuttered to a halt.
“To tell you of your son, Zevran, not to make demands,” Harah’s manner was calm, but Zevran could tell that she was, if not ill at ease, then concerned about his reaction.
The small child, feathery white blonde hair flying about his round face, scrambled around the room while Zevran and Harah spoke. Zevran could not take his eyes from the boy. His child. His son.
Zevran was having trouble swallowing, “Will he allow… may I…,” then settled for, “Will you please introduce us?”
“Zelwyn,” Harah called, and the child held his arms up to be picked up.
Harah picked up the boy, “Zelwyn, this is your father, Zevran,” then she placed the toddler squarely on Zevran’s lap.
Hazel eyes stared up into his, and a small chubby hand reached toward his face to touch the markings there. A smile like sunshine bloomed, and the boy began to speak a rapid gabble either asking or explaining something that was totally unintelligible to Zevran. It did not matter. Zevran had fallen in love.
It had not stopped there. As Zevran passed through the Alienage deep in thought he had seen a familiar face on an unfamiliar figure. Jaela was a thief, quick and lithe with a sense of humor as sharp as her blades. Zevran had pleasurable memories of time spent with Jaela and her older sister Kaena, as the sisters had been willing to share … many things.
Zevran greeted her with relief, it was someone familiar after a great shock. Jaela had grinned up at him, and when his gaze had moved down, to where Jaela’s slim figure had … grown, had started to laugh at him. Drawing him into her home, he had been met by Kaena, awkward stance, rounded distended belly, telling him that the sisters were both fairly well along in pregnancy. Zevran’s mind blanked, thought he heard a voice inside telling him to count, Void take him, when was he last with the women?
“So,” Zevran,” Jaela’s wicked voice in his ear, “It’s been some time since you visited us.”
“You have a son?” Alistair’s joy was contagious, “Congratulations, Zev!”
Then thought caught up to him, “er… congratulations, Zev?”
Zevran appeared to be embarrassed. “You do not need to worry, my friend, I am happy enough.
I am, however, uncertain of how to keep this from Anora. It will cause her pain, and I do not wish to do so.”
“What is it that you wish to keep from me?” Anora spoke from a window above them.
Alistair shouted up happily, “Zevran is a father!”
Anora’s head disappeared from the window. Zevran shook his head, “Alistair,” he started.
“Zevran , you can’t keep things from either of us. Anora has the largest spy network in Ferelden, and that includes outmatching the Crows. You found out today?”
“Yes, today, but there seems to be more. It is rather embarrassing,” Again, Zevran stopped.
Anora’s voice came from the doorway, a glacial tone, “When will you be marrying the mother of your baby, Zevran.”
“You see, Anora,” Zevran felt himself break out into a sweat, which should not be possible on such a cold day, “It is more than one baby. Apparently.”
“Well, how many?” Alistair was openly laughing at him.
“There will be twelve.”
The laughter from the King had reached hysterical proportions, while the Queen’s expression did not cast a good outlook for the King’s bodyguard. “Twelve,” she repeated.
“Twelve!” came again from Anora, then shaking her head, “Both of you come in here. Now.”
In a small meeting room the queen called for brandy before pouring Zevran a glass and plunking it down in front of him, “Drink that. Then tell us what is going on, Zev.”
Her use of his name allowed Zevran to take a deep breath in relief. The brandy was like fire going down, and he wondered why he hadn’t been drinking constantly since he had found out. “Anora,” Zevran was apologetic.
Waving her hand at him as she poured for herself and her husband, Anora asked, “Alistair said you *were* a father. Is there already a baby? Or just a large even dozen of your women going pregnant around Denerim?”
“His name is Zelwyn. His mother is a Dalish who is currently living in the Alienage. She has been studying texts in the Chantry for references to the Dalish. Harah and I,” Zevran took another drink, “Met during our first trip to Denerim together,” here he nodded at Alistair.
Zevran took another mouthful of the liquor then put the glass down before putting his head in shaking hands, “His name is Zelwyn. It means ‘a friend at court’.”
“May we,” Alistair said softly, “Meet them?”
“Meeting them is not an issue, my friend,” Zevran laughed shakily, “Harah has given me permission to be a part of my son’s life.”
“Good,” Anora sounded satisfied at that, “Is she asking for anything else?”
“No,” Zevran leaned back and looked up at the ceiling, “No marriage. No demands for money. She said that she would like for Zelwyn to know his father.”
“ He is beautiful,” he said next into their silence, “He has hair like a thistle. White and standing up on top of his head and all round it.
He has the most beautiful hazel eyes,” there he stopped, "And now I must certainly deal with the Crows. They must not continue to be a threat."
“Drink,” said Anora, topping off his glass.
Zevran took another mouthful of the brandy, then again, “It is not a dozen, though. A dozen children, but not a dozen women. Harah is of course one. But I met another lover in the Alienage who is due in several months, as is her sister. They are both carrying twins.”
Alistair sounded interested in that, “Are the sisters twins?”
“No, but their father was one,” Zevran had not thought about that before.
Anora’s voice was strangled, “So that is five children with three women.”
Zevran sounded dazed, “Both sets of twins should be born at the same time. They were certainly conceived together.”
Anora began to laugh out loud, something she did more now that she had married Alistair, but it was still not something she did often. Zevran noted with relief that her laughter was not bitter. “Your Majesty,” he said apologetically, “There are nine women in the Alienage who are pregnant with my children.”
“That must have been some night,” came Alistair’s engaging comment.
Zevran frowned, “They will be born throughout the next six months, Alistair. I did not do this on purpose, and even *I* certainly could not have accomplished this on one night.”
Alistair put in, “None of the women is Shianni is … are they?”
“No, my friend. Shianni is just a friend.”
Anora had calmed somewhat, “Nine women in the Alienage. Which one are you going to marry?”
“None,” Zevran took another drink, “They will not have me.”
“They won’t marry you?” Anora sounded surprised.
“No. They feel that I will be a good enough father. But they have no wish to be tied down to me in marriage,” Zevran felt sure that he should be affronted, but right now all he could see was the humor of this situation, “Which is why they have all neglected to notify me until now. I had to hunt for them this afternoon, you see.
“In fact,” he went on after another drink, “I was told by three of the women that now they have gotten what they wanted from me, therefore I need not expect further sexual congress with them.
Alistair spit out a mouthful of brandy at that, wiping at his tunic sheepishly. Anora got a sly smile as she sipped from her glass. Zevran lifted his glass to her, and was rewarded with an open smile. This was good. He said cautiously, “Though they have agreed to let me be part of their lives. I will, of course, provide for the children. You are paying me enough certainly for this.
And I would like to see them educated. I would give them a way out of the Alienage that does not involve some of the things I met with in my varied career. I have spoken to Shianni about a way to do this without causing problems for the mothers.
Jaela and Kaena, they are carrying the twins, have asked me to train their babies…their children… my children, when they are of an age to learn my,” Zevran paused, “Skills.”
“There you go,” Alistair said happily, “Your next generation of Kestrels!”
“Alistair,” Zevran sighed, “Kestrels? Again? They are scouts.”
Anora had a thoughtful look, “Zev,” she said slowly, “You have nine women in the Alienage pregnant. But you hardly are exclusive when it comes to your amatory practices.
How many women outside of the Alienage have you gotten knocked up?”
This had not occurred to Zevran.
After a war, even a war like this were women are involved in the fighting, the male population goes down - in Thedas the majority of the fighters in the game were certainly male. And a lot died quite gorily, depending what mode was played. Aaand a lot of children are born after the war is over. Often to single mothers.
Chapter 8: Finding
It had started, this time, with Alistair exploring the palace. There were maps of the castle and all the work done over the centuries. The maps were not accurate. This did not include the secrets that were supposed to be allowing the royalty access to knowledge, spying on each other, or hidden places for meetings. Over the years many of them had been forgotten.
Theron had written about a Dwarf who had worked on Vigil’s Keep. He came highly recommended. Voldrik Glavonak was not impressed with the stonework in Denerim, but he would give them accurate consolidated maps of the entire palace for a price. An expensive price, but he would also ensure that none of the Deep Roads exitted up into Denerim, but especially into the palace. Glavonak also would be discrete.
Zevran had told them that the Antivans would most certainly have assassinated Glavonak after he had finished his work, to keep the secrets of the palace to themselves. Anora had mused over this with a smile, while Alistair had been teasing her about it.
The three of them were sitting in Anora’s study examining the large maps spread out over a huge wooden table. Anora was looking for something, Alistair could see that, but she had not enlightened him as to what. Zevran was excited to see the passages forgotten for ages. It was overwhelming to Alistair, who found himself looking for ways to defend the palace if they ever had another incursion of darkspawn, or worse, Orlesians. The meeting with the Ferelden chief staff and counsel would be later on in the week, when these maps would be revealed.
The Orlesian embassy was due in the next week as well. Alistair and Anora were to travel as heads of state to Orlais in two months, and this delegation was to facilitate that visit.
“Ha!” Anora was excited.
Alistair looked at the page of squares showing many, many rooms. “Come with me,” Anora was not the type to grab his arm, but Alistair felt himself drawn in her wake out of the room and into the hallway. Zevran followed out of curiosity. Their guards attempted to keep up.
The rooms that Anora had found were currently unused, in an older, but not ancient part of the palace. Unlit, they required lanterns, but Anora insisted that they three were able to carry them. Leaving the guardsmen on the other side of a large wooden door that closed off these rooms, Anora started with the farthest doorway down a long stone hall. This was a large open space with two fireplaces at either end of the room. A single wall held large windows, and Alistair threw the shutters back to let in light. The ceiling was higher than many in the palace and there were strands of cobwebs hanging down from the plastered ceiling. At least, Alistair thought as he looked up, the ceilings were in excellent repair.
Wide stone stairs spread across an entire side of the room to lead up to a small balcony. A half hung tapestry revealed an opening in the center, with two doors to either side. To the right was a large room with windows looking out over Denerim. Looking down two stories Alistair could see the courtyard in which he and Zevran practiced. Below this must be one of the meeting areas that Anora used frequently. A corner fireplace backed upon one of the fireplaces in the larger room.
The left doorway led to an enormous bath chamber. A heavily tarnished mirror stood against the wall, and the garderobe had the cleanliness of long disuse.
The central opening was to another room, apparently used for storage, filled with empty wooden boxes and old tapestries folded on chairs with the padding leaking out. “Zev,” Anora called him to the room, “There’s a hidden door. Can you find it?”
No, actually, it was Alistair who eventually did find it. Checking thoroughly stone by stone until he pressed the correct one, there was a click and a small passage like the one between his and Anora’s room opened up. Anora made a sound of satisfaction.
“Why wouldn’t they walk out into the hallway and in the door?” Alistair questioned.
Anora just smiled at him and swished out of the room. Catching up to her was fairly simple, keeping up with her was not. This large group of rooms seemed very nice and all, if empty, and the large windows provided some nice light. What was she going to stick in here? Anora had already planned for Orlesians, and this didn’t seem a very Dwarven suite. It had little or no access to other parts of the palace, so it was dreadfully inconvenient.
There were three more doors that Alistair could see, and Anora crossed the hall first. This was apparently some form of barracks. There were fifteen rooms around a central great room. Stone walls, no windows, and the rooms were small, about ten foot square. One room, apparently set aside for baths if the remains of old wooden tubs were to be believed, 10 by 20 feet. There were two garderobes, one on either side.
“Imagine these little rooms as bedrooms, Alistair,” Anora swung her arms and spun in the center of the great room.
“Alright, Anora,” Alistair affected an intense air of concentration, then shrugged his shoulders, “Why?”
But Anora was already gone down the hall to the two doors on either side of the main entrance to this area. One was a long slender room walled on one side with windows overlooking that same courtyard as the room down the hall. Across from it were three rooms, each leading into the next, and filled with wooden shelves that were falling to pieces on the walls.
Back down the hall they went to find the catch to another hidden door at the far end of the hall. It opened to dark and musty smelling stairs leading both up and down. “This should go down to the servant’s quarters,” Anora said thoughtfully.
“And up?” Alistair asked.
“To one of the roofs, I believe,” Zevran put in as he tried to look around them.
Further exploration up and down revealed that the downward set led to a room near the kitchens, and the upward set did indeed lead to the roof. The roof was flat, set with stone flags, as though intended for use as a terrace.
Once again they were swept in her wake back to the room on the balcony, “Don’t you think our bed could go against that wall? There is more room here than either of our bedrooms now.”
“Anora, you want to move out of our rooms?” Alistair asked as they swept back into the first room they had examined, “Why are we doing this instead of, well, getting ready for Orlais?”
Anora found the latch for the passage into the small room, “Alistair,” she said, catching up his hand and leading him through,”This is a nursing room. For the baby.”
“But we don’t have a baby,” Alistair sounded stupid even to himself.
Anora just smiled.
Alistair felt as though his heart had stopped, “We have a baby?”
“We will,” Anora purred, “In about six months.”
Zevran began to laugh behind them, “I am feeling extraneous, your Majesties, and will leave you to your discussion.”
Anora was quick, “Z...Zev, I don’t have to tell you this news stays between the three of us and Ariamne, do I?
It would spoil the surprise for it to... get out...”
“As you say,” and Zevran gave his most elegant bow.
Alistair, stunned, did not notice his departure, “You’re pregnant?” came with an expression of utmost joy, before sweeping her into his arms to kiss her.
It was a moment of tight and utterly perfect embrace before he loosened his hold. “Are you alright?” her husband asked anxiously, “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“I am just fine, Alistair. Ariamne told me today. I haven’t had any sickness, and everything seems to be absolutely fine. I should start showing in about a month,” Anora glowed.
“But, we’re supposed to go to Orlais in two. I won’t go without you,” Alistair pulled her close, but more gently.
“No,” Alistair looked down at his wife’s uplifted face as she purred with almost venomous satisfaction, “We will both be going to Orlais. My husband, Alistair, King of Ferelden, and me. Showing. Five months pregnant.”
“Anora, it won’t be safe,” Alistair knew that pregnant women didn’t parade about, “Aside from the pregnancy, we’ll be a target in Orlais.”
“The Empress won’t dare allow two visiting heads of state to be harmed in any way,” Anora had a smile like a cat caught in cream, “It’s only when we get home that the trouble will start. We’re safe until then, as safe as either of us will ever be.
And Ariamne will be with us, and she says that we do not have to be afraid of our normal routine. We will just be prudent.”
With a tone of wonder Alistair said, “You are intending to shove your pregnancy into the Empress’ face at every opportunity, aren’t you?”
“Why, yes,” Anora still purring, “Yes, I am.”
In the middle of the night Alistair woke up, his wife in his arms, and shook her. "Anora?"
"Mmmmm?" she was awake at least.
Alistair sounded uneasy in the darkness, "Are you expecting us to fill all those little rooms? How many of them were there? Fifteen?"
Anora laughed, "I expect we'll be very busy for the next few years or so. Go to sleep Alistair."
It wasn't until later that they began to argue about names.
Chapter 9: Legions of Orlesians...
The first long day of hosting the Orlesian delegation started with their formal presentation to the King and Queen of Ferelden in the throne room. The Orlesian plenipotentiary had brought a good number of his servants. Those were, of course, not introduced. He brought as well his own small set of Chantry members. The Chantry folk were introduced last.
Anora knew that Leliana was a part of the entourage. Alistair had not known. Anora had cornered Zevran Arainai and forbade his warning her husband. Zevran had looked at her cynically, “Are you providing a nice surprise for the King, your Majesty? Or is this another test?”
Anora lifted her chin in the face of his bluntness, “Ser Arainai, every day in life is a test. This one is for the Orlesians. Watch their expressions carefully for me. I will want your input afterward.”
The Queen had spent a good deal of time planning for this event. Only her spymaster, her husband, his bodyguard, and her healer knew that she was three months pregnant. It was in the best interests of Ferelden, Anora justified herself, for the announcement of her pregnancy to coincide with their visit to Orlais. She wanted no news to be coming from this batch of diplomats to warn the Empress of the impending formal notice.
Toward that end Anora had adopted a new style of clothing that concealed some of her figure. It was a Ferelden peasant skirt with an embroidered over tunic and enough cloth to confuse the eye. The clothes had the added benefit of having been given to Anora as a gift by the Weavers’ Guild. On occasions where evening dress was appropriate, she made sure to wear whatever was most revealing. This would ensure that any rumors that might propagate from the change in style were proved false. If they were able to prevent any rumors at all, that would be for the best, of course.
Anora took some pride in the state of the Palace, if not the general appearance of Denerim. There was still rebuilding from the destruction caused by darkspawn in the Battle of Denerim. Signs of growth were everywhere.
Anora was acquainted with those the Empress had sent. They were all career diplomats, and blood relatives of the Empress. Every one was nobility that had been to Denerim for duties before. Alistair, she knew, found these events boring, but he was on edge, seeing them all as potential enemies. “Smile. Relax,” she had told him before their entrance, “Perhaps you will find something interesting to hold your attention while they drone on with their speeches.”
Anora felt Alistair turn as the delegates entered the throne room to give her a look. Her face was set squarely toward welcoming their visitors. She knew, though, that he had seen Leliana. The woman was difficult not to notice, with hair that red.
Zevran was standing to the side with a number of courtiers looking moderately inconspicuous. Leliana, Anora noticed, had put her head down modestly after a quick grin at Alistair when he caught her eye. Anora knew that her transparent husband had smiled back. She was surprised, though, to feel his hand taking hers on the arm of the throne. She very deliberately, and noticeably, removed her hand from under his.
At the introduction of the Chantry members Anora spoke to welcome them, then extremely formally, “Sister Leliana is no stranger to us. We would request, revered Mother, if it would not interfere with her duties, that she be released to spend some time with old friends.”
There. That was ambiguous enough. Maker how that old man would go on and on with his fulsome praises. Was there no way to cut him off?
“Did you find what you were looking for? Alistair asked his wife stiffly before they reached the privacy of their rooms.
“You might say so,” Anora was satisfied.
“May I know what is going on?” it was said reproachfully as they passed through the guard post on the way to their rooms.
“Would you please send for Ser Arainai?” Anora asked the guard as they passed.
“Ser Arainai awaits you in His Majesty’s anteroom,” was the reply.
There was a mutter. Was it, “I am not surprised.”?
“Ser Arainai,” Anora swept into the room, “Have the courtesy to turn your head.”
She watched him sharply until he complied with a grin and a nod. Anora turned and grasped the front of Alistair’s formal robes and pulled him down to her kiss.
Maker, how Alistair loved her. Soft lips held him, invited him, and he could only put his arms around his wife and kiss her seriously. When he drew back to catch his breath Anora sighed and said, “Alistair, you were perfect. There was no doubt that you were surprised and pleased to see Leliana!”
“And no doubt,” Zevran spoke from where his back was still turned, “That the Orlesian delegation think that you and Leliana were in former times intimate?
Leliana was indeed chosen specifically, I expect, to ruffle the waters, as they say.”
“Yes,” Anora agreed, “That man was very satisfied with your reaction.
Did you blush? I could not see your face.”
Alistair said dryly, “When do I not blush, Anora?”
Anora lifted her face for another kiss, then, “Perfect! Just perfect!”
“Yes, my friend,” Zevran sounded amused, and was still looking off into the distance ostentatiously, “The recognition of Leliana, the smile, the blush, looking over at your wife and attempting to school your face, and the refusal to look at Leliana afterward. The frozen look when Anora pulled her hand from yours. Then the surprise at Anora’s invitation.
You could not have acted thus. It was what was needed.”
Alistair started to get angry, “And now the Orlesian delegate thinks I am cheating on my wife. All because Leliana is an old comrade?
I have given no cause...”
Anora interrupted him with a caress and a kiss. Not turning her head or taking her eyes from Alistair’s she said, “Zevran, please get a glass of brandy for Alistair. You might pour one for each of us.
Alistair? Do you trust me?”
It was a hard question. Alistair despaired of learning the politics of governance. Anora knew it, swam in those waters with seemingly little effort, and had been raised to be Queen. It was simply difficult to give up anger on such short notice. There was no hesitation in his answer though, which came out as a growl, “Of course I *trust* you, Anora.”
“Then enjoy our visit with Leliana. Take her for a walk in the gardens. Show her the fish pond you go on and on about,” Anora gave him another caress, “But don’t get angry. No matter what you hear, don’t get angry. Can you do that?”
“You want them to think I’m … like my father?” Alistair was incredulous, “That I’m cheating on you?”
“No,” Anora was emphatic, “We want them to think that you might be tempted to do so, if offered the right incentive. They’re going to be told how... volatile our marriage is. How you stormed out of the palace one night after I threw vases at you.”
“Alistair,” Zevran handed him the glass which was immediately emptied, “If the delegate is spending time planning on how you may be seduced, he will spend less time looking at Anora’s waist. Especially if we provide evidence that she is very much not pregnant.”
“Oh,” Alistair had the grace to look ashamed, “Do I really go on and on about that fish pond?”
Anora laughed, “It’s your absolute disbelief, Alistair, that we would have a holding pond on the grounds for the kitchens when the Drakon flows past the palace,albeit at the bottom of the cliff, and we are so close to the ocean.”
Anora took a sip of the brandy, then made a face. Handing her glass to Alistair she said, “You might as well have this. I don’t think the baby likes brandy.”
“Will I have to lie to Leliana? I’m not sure how convincingly I’d be able to do that,” Alistair grimaced.
Anora shared a look with Zevran. “We don’t know how involved Leliana is in Orlesian intrigues, *or* in the intrigues of the Chantry. They are not happy that we have given the Lake Calenhad Circle their freedom. Or that we supported the Circle at Vigil’s Keep.
Be yourself, Alistair. She’s an old friend. We’ll figure things out as we go along. And the seductions they plan will appear when we go to Orlais. They’ll all be in place, and we will sail in armored and prepared.
Oh, and here,” Anora handed Alistair a key.
Alistair sighed, “What is the key for?”
“It’s for the hallway between our rooms. We will need to stay separated for the time the delegation is here,” Anora said.
“Why are you giving it to me?” Alistair growled thinking of two weeks without sex or the comfort of Anora in his bed, “I’m sure you could hold onto it yourself.”
“Because,” Anora said with a winsome smile, “I don’t trust myself to stay on my side of the doorway. You have the key. You are in charge.”
“Maker, what a mess,” Alistair felt drained.
Anora nodded, but leaned over to give him a soft kiss on the cheek, “We will work it through together.”
It was the best gift she had ever given him.
Over the two weeks that the Orlesians were ensconced in the palace Leliana visited several times. There was a cozy meeting in a comfortable room with Zelwyn playing on the floor. He seemed delighted with Leliana’s fiery hair. Leliana had laughed long and hard at Zevran’s new responsibilities, and at his plans. “But will you teach them all massage?” was her laughing question.
Anora, who was sitting across the room, well away from Alistair as she had been sure to do since the arrival of the delegation, noticed her husband’s smirk at that. Another story that she did not know. The Queen was noticeably polite to Leliana.
Theron and Oghren came from Vigil’s Keep to join them for a small informal dinner together, and then a larger formal dinner where the Warden Commander could be presented to the Orlesian Plenipotentiary.
Leliana walked in the gardens with Zevran and with Alistair, and gave them humorous accounts of life as a Sister in the Chantry, though she was somewhat vague on exactly what she had been doing since the end of the Blight.
Anora took time to walk there with Leliana as well. They discussed the general state of the Ferelden. “Your Majesty,” Leliana said after a pause, “I am sure you are aware that the Orlesian delegate specifically requested my presence in his entourage. I was not familiar with him prior to this visit, and in all probability will have no contact with him once we leave.”
“Please, call me Anora here. Yes, I had guessed that might be the case,” Anora had found that she did not dislike this woman, in spite of her accent.
That did not mean she trusted her.
“Well then, Anora, please understand that the Chantry is not involved in politics between the Orlesian delegate and Ferelden. Here I am simply a Sister in service to the Revered Mother.”
“Thank you, Leliana,” Anora found it easy to smile and noting the very careful wording, “I am also thankful for the opportunity to give Alistair time with ‘Theron’s Clan’, as he calls it.”
Leliana laughed, “Yes, we are an odd bunch.
I am fascinated at how Zevran has made a home here. It had not occurred to me that he would ever be anything but a wanderer. He seems happy though. And his children are very beautiful.”
Anora nodded agreement.
Leliana was careful in her next words, “Alistair is looking well. He seems to be working hard to fit in at court.”
Anora pondered her words, then, “Leliana, Alistair is a man who, when faced with becoming king took a lover so that he would know how to have sex with the queen... me, instead of studying finance or politics. He is loyal as a mabari, and unfailingly nice to those who deserve it, regardless of station.
He … well, that the court has not eaten Alistair alive is a miracle.”
“You know about Wynne, then,” Leliana murmured.
“I know that he went to Wynne to learn about the bed arts, when there was another member of Theron’s clan who had real training,” Anora glanced over at Leliana, “Possible more than one.”
“Possibly,” Leliana looked directly at Anora, “I remember how much trouble we went to keeping you from finding out about them.”
“You did well. I had no idea until Alistair told me,” Anora looked back just as directly.
“You,” Leliana smiled, “Thought it was me?”
“Yes,” Anora nodded, “I thought it was you. Since it is obviously not Zevran. And I know Alistair was not with Morrigan more than once.”
“Morrigan?” Leliana was shocked.
“I wouldn’t speak to him about it,” Anora advised, all the more convinced by Leliana’s reaction that her guess was correct, “It’s a memory he particularly dislikes.”
Leliana gave her a piercing look, “Alistair and Morrigan hate each other. Virulently. Violently. but even more so since before the Battle of... I can not fathom any reason why they would... why would you think they had?”
Anora could honestly say, “Alistair told me,” though it had not been in words. Instead she settled for, “He hasn’t said it, but I know. It … he won’t talk to me about the Archdemon, the things he saw in Orzammar, of the Wardens.
The Wardens dragged the King and the Hero of Ferelden to Weisshaupt when we were first married to demand an accounting. Apparently either Theron or Alistair should have died when they killed the Archdemon. Neither of them, obviously, are dead.”
Leliana was thoughtful, “You have an excellent intelligence service.”
Anora cocked her head. “I have an adequate intelligence service. Nothing like that available to more global organizations.
I also have Alistair’s permission to puzzle out the Gray Wardens’ matters. He may not tell me anything of them, of course. I know about the nightmares, the increase in stamina and … appetites.
He is a good man, Leliana, if not exactly suited to be King,” Anora found herself picking at her fingers, one of her tells as she was aware and being used purposely now, “We do not always agree...but I would not want for him to be hurt by politicking. Not by the Chantry, and not by the Orlesian Empire.”
“Anora,” Leliana said seriously, “What exactly is it that you wish of me?”
Anora coldly said, “I? I do not wish anything of you. Who knows what Alistair might.
But please remember this. What I told you about Alistair and Morrigan? If you tell anyone else, it will harm Alistair *and* Theron.”
Leliana found herself touring the grounds with the King before supper. He had shown her the fish pond in the back, they had examined the kitchen gardens while he told her of adventures exploring the castle.
In the barracks Leliana saw two adult dragon skulls mounted above one of the doorways and asked to know the story. “Oh!” Alistair brightened up, “Well. Anora got very angry one night, and began heaving vases at me. She didn’t hit me, of course.
I offered to find all the ugly vases for her to throw, which was not well received. It looked as though it would be smart to give her some time to cool down. So I took a party of recruits out on the road bandit hunting.
Only,” the king shrugged, “No bandits. No darkspawn. No bears. No wolves.”
“But you found dragons, Alistair?” Leliana laughed.
“We found dragons. They’d killed a farmer’s oxen, and had a small nest. We had to hire the farmer’s old horse to drag the heads back.
But then I forgot where I’d left them. The stable boys were put out, because the heads started to rot, and it disturbed the horses. I heard about it soon enough though and had to make amends. We had the skulls cleaned, and Anora presented them as trophies to the Guard along with the bounty to be split up among the patrol. They split the money we got for the dragons’ eggs as well.
Now they keep asking when I’m going to lead another patrol!” Alistair was laughing as he ushered her out into the corridor.
“Let us sit for a moment,” Leliana was aware that they were being watched by many people here in the garden, but there was something she wanted to ask.
“Are you happy, Alistair?” Leliana could not help herself.
“Yes,” Alistair took a moment to think, “Most of the time. I don’t love being King, but there are worse things.
Do you like being back in the Chantry? Are you happy?”
“I have found a measure of peace in it, yes,” Leliana realized how true that was.
Alistair took a look around the garden at the others enjoying the day, “I suppose there are a lot of people watching us. It is hard to get used to that.”
Leliana pulled a large fan shaped leaf from a plant nearby. Using it as a fan, while also effectively covering her mouth she asked, “Alistair, You are a friend. You know that I was asked to be here to gather information. What do you want me to do?”
“Well,” Alistair began, and Leliana leaned forward and began to fan him. When he looked at her in confusion she fanned herself again saying, “They can not read lips if they can not see them.”
Leaning forward to let her fan him, he said, “Leliana, you know how you can tell someone something and make them believe the direct opposite? Zevran never could manage that.”
Leliana smiled, leaned forward and put her hand on his, “I remember. I also remember Zevran *trying* to do it,” before going back to fanning Alistair.
“You and I have never been what Zevran is calling ‘intimate’. If they ask you, can you make them believe the opposite of the truth, but don’t lie?” Alistair looked at her anxiously.
Leliana looked down, as though mentally working her way through the puzzle. Smiling up at Alistair she said, “I believe it can be done.
Why is it so important that I not lie, Alistair?”
Alistair smiled at her, “The truth is so much easier for me to remember, Leliana!”
Leliana began to laugh. “I will do my best.
Alistair spent every night of the Orlesian delegation’s visit working out his aggressions on the practice dummies in his courtyard. At times Zevran was there, once with Leliana to spar, most times he was not. Since his days were taken up with meetings with the Orlesians, it was not until after the formal dinners that Alistair had time to go through the forms. Afterward he would return to his rooms and go to bed. Alone.
Anora had stationed guards in the hallway outside of their room, and the maids all knew, including Anora’s suddenly very gossipy Scout turned Chambermaid, that the door between was locked, the key had been “lost”, and neither the King nor the Queen seemed in a hurry to find it.
Alistair did a lot of stamping, and practicing falls on the sanded flags. The former templar was unsure how much of this noise was actually getting through to the delegation’s quarters. Anora just smiled and told him to keep it up, but not to say anything outside of a single cleared meeting room that he wouldn’t want the Orlesians to hear. They knew there was an air vent in the wall of the courtyard that led down to the rooms below.
Separated for two weeks, Anora had taken to working in the small meeting room that overlooked Alistair’s Courtyard. That was how she tended to think of the space. She took care not to be seen by her husband or anyone else, but every evening she watched him. Practicing lopping off heads. Sometimes working his way through the forms without his armor, bare skin shining with sweat, Anora knew that watching him made it harder for her, but she did not want to stop.
It was, she thought, a good thing she had entrusted the key to Alistair, for Anora had stood by the door leading to his room every night, listening, and sometimes more. She was not sure if she had imagined him standing on the other side, or he’d been there, listening for her.
There was one night left, and the delegation returned to Orlais in the morning. One night, and as soon as they were on their ship, she would request...no, to be honest, she would probably jump Alistair when he was not looking. Someplace unexpected. Alistair liked that, she thought, remembering certain previous romantic passages. Anora watched Alistair finish for the evening and begin to drag off his armor and found herself fiddling with her fingers. Always a bad sign, one of her “tells”.
Surely... surely they could manage something discreet now?
Alistair poured a dipper of water over his head. It was clean, from the rain barrel in the corner, and he shook himself, “like a mabari”, he thought. The king of Ferelden was not looking forward to returning to his lonely bed. Tomorrow, he promised himself, he would find a way to jump Anora in the throne room when no one was looking. The throne room, he thought happily, but it would have to be done … right... to have no one find out.
There was a noise in the anteroom, and Alistair stretched and turned to see Anora in the doorway beckoning. Anora, alone. This was either very bad, or well, part of him leaped at the thought of Anora flat on her back in the middle of the courtyard with Alistair on top. Probably not a wise thought, but an enjoyable one.
She hadn’t spoken, so he didn’t speak until he was close and she slipped her arms up around his neck, “Alistair,” was a whisper in his ear.
So, nothing bad. Alistair put his arms about Anora’s waist and pulled her close to him, his chest bare against her over tunic. With a little further thought he pulled her tight, his leg sliding slightly between her thighs through the dress. There was every reason as far as he was concerned to let her know what effect she had on him, and he gave his hips a small push so that she could feel his...interest. Interest was not exactly the word for it. He was uncomfortably hard, just from this little bit of contact. It had, after all, been two weeks.
There was a catch in her breath, that was very good, but Alistair did not kiss his wife. He’d had only stolen kisses in their meeting room for two weeks, and it was not something he was happy about. Looking over her shoulder, he saw that Anora had pushed the back of his only chair up under the handle of the door into this space. Zevran must have taught her that. So... interesting. she had blocked the only way in, and they were alone, except for a palace full of servants and intrigue and a suite full of Orlesians beneath their feet.
Deliberately moving her a little away, he asked innocently, “What do you need, love? Is everything alright?”
“Alistair,” Anora began running fingers down his naked chest, “I was thinking... I know how much you like to have sex in … unusual places. And if we were quiet, the Orlesians would never know... there are only a few windows looking down into this courtyard, and none of them can see this doorway.”
“My wife is attempting to seduce me?” Alistair sounded overly surprised as he looked down at her with wide eyes, “What about all the plans, all the schemes we had?”
“Are you complaining?” Anora ran her hand even further down, rubbing against the heat and strength she found in his breeches.
“No, not at all,” Anora looked up at his tone, to find an unusual considering look on Alistair’s face, “After all,” her husband said slowly, “You’re the one who has difficulty being quiet.”
Anora was not expecting the grip her husband took on her shoulders as he brought their mouths together. Alistair had never kissed her like this before, hard, almost painful, his tongue pushing its way into her mouth, she did not have time for resistance. One hand had moved down to pull her forward while Alistair’s leg moved against her pushing her dress up and rubbing against her gate through the layers of cloth. Alistair’s other hand was at the back of her head, pulling out her braids, feathering fingers through her hair to bring the twists down while making it impossible to pull away. Alistair’s lips felt hot on her face as he began to kiss his way down her jaw line to her throat, pulling her up until she was barely touching the floor. Anora had grabbed his arms, no cloth on his torso for grasping, panting and not in control. “A...” she started, before Alistair breathed in her ear, “No noise!” and then he was leaving sharp hard kisses and bites from under her ear down as far as he could reach on her neck.
She caught herself, a soft, “Ah!” and then she felt her skirt being pulled up, smalls twisting as Alistair’s hand slid inside them and began to probe. The “AH!” was louder as he penetrated her, and she could feel him reach for the spot unerringly that made her catch her breath again. Anora began to pant, short and harsh as Alistair began to thrust. “Rmmmm,” Anora kept her mouth tightly closed, her head back, and her eyes not focusing.
Abruptly Alistair dropped her, one hand to steady her but the other was pulling her tunic and shift up and he skinned Anora out of her clothes effectively. Breast band joined smalls on the sanded floor of the courtyard, and Anora found herself bent over the table beside the door, still out in the courtyard, but shielded well enough from the windows above. Alistair’s breeches rubbed against her nakedness, his hand on her hip, while the other undid his tight and uncomfortable laces. Spreading her with one leg, Alistair guided himself, tip of his cock pushing at the entrance to her wet gate. Just the head entered at first, then Alistair shifted her, both hands on her hips before drawing back and thrusting into her fully. Anora grabbed the table edge for support with one hand, and shoved her fist into her mouth. This was... different, but there was no time for thought before Alistair began to settle into a rhythm, long, deep strokes, taking his time, not slow, but not as fast as Anora might have liked. He could take her fully in this position, and was taking advantage of it. She tried to push against him, but his hands on her hips held her down against the table.
He brought her almost to the edge, almost there, before moving slightly and changing the rhythm. It was a stutter that made her lose her hold, but then he started again to bring her up and up, almost to peak before that stutter again, that took away her grip. The third time she realized that he was doing it deliberately, and he was holding her away from climax. Of course, he was holding himself away too. Anora relaxed into his grip, submitting to the unexpectedly dominant Alistair, her hand still in her mouth to stop the sounds that were filling her throat. They came out as a sort of humming moan around her knuckles.
Alistair’s moans were all in his head, “Merciful Maker! Tight! Andraste! Oh, Anora, yes!”
Alistair felt Anora moving close to climax again and sped up. There was no way he could keep this up for ever, not after two weeks of abstinence, part of that listening to his wife using her hand on the other side of the door. It was not planned, but they both fell over the cliff together, Anora making an unMakerly muffled noise with her teeth tight in her hand and her lips covering them just as tightly. She could not hear Alistair with the blood rushing in her ears, but she could feel him panting hard like a runner after a race. Anora could also feel her skin shuddering, from her scalp down to the bottoms of her feet.
They lay there together collapsed on the scarred wooden table, breathing hard, Anora enjoying the warmth of his body over her, Alistair feeling the twinges, the involuntary movement of her muscles below and around him.
Anora breathed out gustily, then stretched as much as she could beneath him, feeling Alistair lifting himself off of her, out of her. Alistair tapped her cheek, then pointed to where he had tossed her clothing, over on top of the vent in the wall, blocking the sound at least a little. To be hoped.
Alistair noticed her hand and lifted it to his lips. Leaning forward against her again he spoke softly, “We should get Ariamne to look at that.”
Anora pushed back against her husband. Quietly, “That was...good,” lingering on the last word.
Alistair stood up and back and stretched. Anora looked over her shoulder to see the pleased look, almost a smirk on his lips. She stood and went into his arms, which folded down around her gently, nothing like the passion only a few moments ago. Alistair laid his head on top of hers, she could feel his voice through her head, “I cannot wait for these guests to leave!” still quiet, but with so much truth in his voice.
After that there was much retrieving of clothing, and quiet removal of the chair. Before opening the door Alistair bent for a gentle kiss, “Good night, Anora.”
Anora hummed at him and kissed him a good deal harder before, “Good night, Alistair.”
Later, in front of her vanity combing out the long golden hair, Anora was in a state of relaxation that she had not known since before the Orlesians had arrived. Lifting the locks of hair to brush underneath she looked at her reflection in the mirror. Turning her head she saw a line of marks from Alistair’s mouth started under her ear and marched down the length of her neck. Anora’s jaw dropped. How could he do that? Right before the delegates left? The teeth marks were going to be bad enough!
Anora decided that she would need to make her husband pay. As soon as they had a moment alone. And she would take her time with it, just as he had taken his time with her tonight. Time to plan that later, though. Tonight there was a physical memory that remained, and Anora knew she would sleep well tonight.
Chapter 10: New Bed
Anora examined the large, muscular man sprawled naked on her bed. Spread eagled, Alistair took up the entire bed, and he had knocked all of her pillows to the floor.
“No nightshirt?” she teased, combing out braids of long golden hair.
Alistair’s voice was cheerful and relaxed, “I forbade them from disturbing you. You need your sleep after the meetings with the Orlesians.
“Oh, do I?” Anora raised her brows, “Then perhaps you should sleep in your own room...”
A loud “Ha!” was his only response.
Anora lifted a handful of hair from her neck and examined the love mark still remaining. Healing magic could do wonderful things, and the trail leading from her shoulder to just below the ear had vanished except for the single easily disguised welt.
Anora put the hair brush and comb away before walking to the bed. The Queen ran an elegant finger nail up Alistair’s leg from the arch of his foot. When her husband started to sit up, muscles shifting along his abdomen, Anora put a hand flat on his belly and pushed him back down. “Not just yet, Alistair.”
“Perhaps,” Anora ran her hand along Alistair’s well muscled abdomen, “We should ask Zevran to design us a bed.”
Alistair put his arms behind his head, “Why on Thedas would you want Zevran to design a bed for us?”
Anora slid onto the bed beside her husband. her hand traced down along his hip to the crease at the top of his leg. Alistair gave every evidence of appreciating his wife’s attentions. To this, Anora gave a sound of satisfaction.
Anora straddled Alistair, climbing aboard him, much as she would have thrown a leg over her horse. Pulling her chemise up over her head slowly, Anora could feel Alistair go from half mast to fully erect, and she settled back to feel his staff press into the valley between the curves of her behind. tossing the garment over her head she laughed, “I know you would like a bed that is our own. I was thinking Zevran would have some interesting ideas,“ here she leaned forward, rubbing her breasts and belly along his body, pressing her gate against her husband’s staff, “But I am sure that you could certainly find your own place to … hide your,” she squirmed on stop of him and Alistair gave a low moan, “sword...”
“Anora,” Alistair sounded amused if breathless, “Zevran is not a name I call to mind when I ‘hide my sword’. Or Your Sword in Your Sheathe. Or whatever euphemism we’re using.”
“You do not know how relieved I am to hear that, your Majesty,” Anora laughed, “Still the offer is there. Shall we have a new bed made? Not mine, not Caillin’s, but ours?”
Alistair gave a wordless, but enthusiastic reply.
Chapter 11: Sharing
Alistair was afraid. This wasn’t a rare thing. Life is full of fear, and he’d lived through the Blight, bringing the Bannorn to heel, and marriage to a woman who had very much not wanted him as a husband. Or around her in any way. Whatsoever.
And now that beloved wife of over a year was giving birth to their child without him. The midwife and the healer had shut him out. The midwife had very pointedly told Zevran to “remove his majesty from anywhere near the Royal Suite. Now!”
The sounds that Anora was making were wrong. The groans, the cries were not a part of the cool calm Queen Anora of Ferelden. “Women die in childbirth, Zev!” Alistair’s hand was gripping the wrist of the Antivan tightly.
Zevran Arainai did not show pain, roll his eyes, or twist out of his friend’s hold. Patiently, “My friend, you do not help Anora. She will hear you,” Zevran searched for an appropriate word, “fussing,” yes fussing was a good word, “and she will try to make you less upset. She will try to be in control, and this my friend is not what she needs at this moment. She needs to let go and do what her body is telling her to do. If this means shouting, then so be it.”
“How many of yours have you watched being born, Zev?” Alistair hunched his shoulders, the picture of despair.
“Six so far,” Zevran shuddered expressively, “But two of those births, or should I say four of those babies, were twins, and only hours apart.”
“I should be there to give her support,” muttered Alistair ashamed.
“You should have thought of that before you made jokes. It upsets the midwife and the healer,” Zevran had not been there, but it must have been something if Ariamne the midwife had kicked the King out.
“Anora laughed,” Alistair pointed out.
Zevran nodded, “Be that as it may... Give Anora the first one without you, she is not the type of woman who wants to be seen in this state.”
“I just wanted to help. I just want her to know...” Alistair whirled and grabbed hold of the Elvhen healer’s assistant passing them, “Excuse me,” he smiled as charmingly as he was capable of doing, “It is very important for you to deliver a message to her Majesty. Would you please?”
The woman, almost a child herself, bobbed her head.
“Tell her... tell her that I am out lopping off heads in her service!” it was difficult to say no to this very earnest man, “You will? Won’t you?”
Zevran watched the girl’s shy smile with the eye of a connoisseur. It was amazing really, the reaction of some women to all that handsome honesty. The girl disappeared through the dark wooden door. A moment later there was a wail. Was it, “Wait!”? and “I want to watch!” followed by a groan.
“Lopping heads off in the Queen’s service?” Zevran sighed heavily, “and where, Alistair, will we find heads in need of lopping?”
They were moving at a fast pace down the stone hallway. “If we can’t find brigands, we’ll find some darkspawn,” Alistair shouted over his shoulder.
“Childbirth won’t take that long, we haven’t the time. Really Alistair, I will not have you walking around back alleys in Denerim looking for trouble while your wife is in labor. Anora will want you HERE when she is ready,” that part at least got Alistair’s attention.
“But...” Alistair stopped dead, and Zevran, true to his most excellent Crow training, did not run into the broad back, “I promised heads, Zev.”
“We will find a different kind of head for your Queen, Alistair. It just takes some thinking,” Zevran had no idea what to propose, but his tone was full of confidence, “Now. Who are the people that Anora most dislikes currently?
Who has been causing her trouble?”
Eamon, advisor to the Queen of Ferelden, and his wife, Isolde were something of a thorn in the side. Eamon because he did not trust Anora after Arl Howe’s and her father’s attempt on the then Arl of Redcliff’s life or their successful attempt to overthrow Cailan’s rule. Eamon had been quite vocal that the untrained, unready Alistair should be King.
Eamon still, from time to time, tried to limit Anora’s power, and to transfer as much as possible to Alistair. Alistair respected Eamon, who had taken him in as a bastard child and provided an anonymous place for him to grow up. This had probably prevented all manner of assassins from “taking care of the King’s bastard” just in case. Eamon had done this in spite of the insult to his sister, Maric’s wife Rowan. Eamon seemed to think that if Alistair just tried hard enough he would be able to take on the reins of government and run them more efficiently than Anora.
Isolde was a true Orlesian rose, a young woman who had married the older Eamon, and immediately assumed that Alistair was Eamon’s bastard. She had set out to drive Alistair away, taking the only home that Alistair had known, and sending him to the Chantry.
Alistair had been among those who had rescued Eamon from poison and the living dead, and while Isolde had thanked him for that, she had difficulty forgiving the loss of her son. Connor had been revealed as a mage at the time, and sent to the Circle. Connor seemed to love the circle, and was proving himself in his studies. None of this mattered to Isolde. At least and at best she was polite.
This loss and dealing with the aftermath of the Blight was why the Arl had given his position to his brother Teagan and moved to Denerim to become the Chief Advisor to the Queen.
As for Anora, she disliked anything Orlesian on principal. Although Alistair had striven to be fair when he discussed Isolde, Anora had picked up considerable dislike for the woman on his account.
Eamon and Isolde’s estate was in the fashionable part of Denerim, suitable for entertaining, and with gardens precisely laid out in the latest Orlesian fashion. They had just given a garden party, which Alistair and an extremely pregnant Anora had attended, Zevran at their side accompanied by Arianni, Bann of the Alienage. Isolde was very proud of her roses. They massed about the grounds in a rainbow of colors and scents.
It was dark when Alistair and Zevran left the palace to travel through the grimy streets of Denerim. They were accompanied by a small corps of Zevran’s scouts, and aside from an occasional Night Watch checking Zevran’s identity, they were not bothered. Alistair was dressed in plain leathers, and the two handed sword of a mercenary. With the helmet on, and without the very distinctive shield that had belonged to Duncan, people saw what they were expecting, yet another big, tough sell sword.
“Now, my children,” Zevran spoke quietly to the scouts, who looked at him with shining eyes in the light from a mansion window, “This is an exercise in subtlety.
Tonight, we will reap only the best for our good Queen Anora. I do not need to tell you that we leave no trace. The longer the Lady Isolde’s gardeners take to notice our … acquisitions, the worthier you shall be. You understand?
The men and women, humans, Elvhen, and one dwarf, disappeared into the darkness. Alistair looked pained as he said to his friend, “Subtlety? Maker, Zev, I have the subtlety of a mabari.”
“Do not worry, my friend,” Zevran said confidently, “You are with me!”
Getting over the wall was not as hard as Alistair thought it would be. Well, he had known he could get over the wall. He was fit. It was doing it silently that was the issue. Leather was better than plate so far as noise was concerned, but Alistair, used to his long sword and shield, found the two-hander annoying and cumbersome.
Once they got into the gardens the King began to feel like a character in the Black Fox stories. His goal was a small bed of roses in the back of the gardens, Ferelden roses, a golden crown-like center with simple white petals radiating out from it. They had a sweet light scent, the one that Anora wore most often, but were not prized as were the more complex Orlesian flowers, bred for scent, ornate ruffles of petals, and bright colors. Isolde had served crystallized rose petals of all colors at her garden party. The confection had not impressed Alistair, who loved roses, but that did not include ingesting anything more than rosehip tea.
Making their way across the blackness covering the trimmed grass of the formal gardens, lit only by the bright windows of the estate, Zevran and Alistair were halfway across the lawn to a small grotto when a sound alerted Zevran, who tapped Alistair and pointed into the shallow artificial cave. It was a tight fit, the two of them, as the small bench inside was barely visible from the lawn and took up most of the space, which meant they had to stand packed together off to one side. It did allow them to see out though, tall human Alistair peering over shorter Elvhen Zevran’s shoulder.
Eamon and Isolde were walking hand in hand through the garden in the darkness. There was no mistaking them, and their voices confirmed, Isolde’s high and flirting, Eamon’s rumbling in return. The intruders could see their dark shapes moving. Isolde bent to smell a flower, then picked it, holding it up to share with her husband. Alistair had not given much thought to Eamon and Isolde’s marriage, nor to anyone’s marriage except his own. When Eamon pulled Isolde to him for a long, slow kiss, Alistair felt uncomfortable, spying on this intimacy. When Isolde broke free and reclined on the grass in front of the cave, inviting her husband with open arms, Alistair was horrified.
Zevran was trying not to hold his breath, a problem for anyone doing dangerous things, because he was praying that Alistair, with his so famous lack of subtlety, would not give them away. Really, Zevran thought while watching critically, Eamon seemed to be quite good at what he was doing, peeling Isolde out of her tight fashionable clothes. It bespoke years of practice.
The couple were unhurried, taking their time in a rare private moment, invaded by the unwilling voyeurs. Well, unwilling in Alistair’s case, as Zevran was quite frankly enjoying it, but he knew that Alistair would be mortified. And as Zevran could feel behind him, Alistair was not unaffected by the situation. Reaching over his shoulder the Elvhen pulled Alistair’s head down and whispered in his ear, “Chant. In your head.”
Maker, thank you for Zevran!” Alistair thought, nodding his head and banging it more or less silently into Zevran’s before he began to concentrate on reciting the Canticle of Trials in his head without error, leaning back against the wall of the grotto.
Zevran, his nose smarting from contact with Alistair’s head, felt the man behind him relax in more ways than one, and his breathing even out. A shame, really, that this could not have happened before Anora. Zevran would have made the most of it. Now they were too close as friends, and as Zevran had discovered even an attempt at fantasizing about a Gray Warden sandwich, Theron Maheriel and Alistair with Zevran in the middle, had taken an abrupt turn with dream Alistair not behaving in an appropriate fashion as an object of lust. No their relationship was much better this way. There was trust of a deep and almost frightening sort, and home. Zevran had never had a home before, not really, except for the Crows. Now, there was Alistair, and Anora was becoming close, and there were his children, and the scouts. Not the same as the Crows at all. Really, he was growing so soft he needed to take some time and sharpen his edges.
The lovemaking in front of them went on and on. Zevran was impressed with Eamon’s stamina. Alistair was reaching the end of the Canticle of Trials when Eamon and Isolde, laughing in the darkness, dressed and made their way back to their mansion. Alistair was left with an entirely new way of looking at the couple he had known for so long.
Peeking out, listening for any more intruders, the pair began to find their way to the target. Snipping stems carefully, stripping the leaves and tucking them into a pouch to remove telltales, the roses’ cut stems were wrapped in wet cloth, then carefully packed into a bag on Zevran’s back.
Meeting with the scouts in the darkness of the street in front of the estate, the successful party made their way unhindered back to the palace, Laden with trophies for the Queen of Ferelden.
Anora’s smile was radiant in spite of the sweat darkened locks of golden hair glued to her forehead. That smile was all for Alistair, her husband, father of her son, the Crown Prince of Ferelden.
Alistair put the vase of Ferelden roses on the table by her bed, then bent to kiss that sweated forehead. He looked cautiously at the bundle of white swaddling in Anora’s arms. “Alistair, meet your son,” Anora could not have been more proud.
All around them servants began to bring in vase after vase of roses, until there was no surface left unfilled, their sweet fragrance all through the room. “How do you feel?” Alistair could not stop looking at the pair of them, his wife and his son.
“I feel like one of Hen’s dishrags, Alistair. It was,” Anora took a deep breath, “A lot of work.”
Alistair carefully touched his son with one strong finger, “Hello, Gareth!” he said softly.
Anora gave a cry, “Oh, Alistair! That’s perfect!”
"Would you like to hold him?” it would kill her to give Gareth up, even for a second, but Anora knew Alistair, knew that he would want to hold his child.
Smiling he showed the baby in his arms to Zevran, “This is my son, Gareth Loghain,” the second name came out as a choked growl.
Anora began to cry softly, "Oh, Alistair!"
Still touching the soft baby head, which oddly to Alistair looked bald, but seemed to have very light crop of blonde hair, Alistair said smiling, using humor to touch on the sensitive topic, “You thought I’d pick Theron, did you?”
“And you thought I’d name him after my father or Cailen. So we’re even," Anora said reprovingly, though she did not hide the fondness in her smile.
A corner of Alistair's mouth turned up, "And neither of us would have named him after Maric."
Anora laughed tiredly at that, and Alistair went on, "Well I will make a deal with you. The next boy you can name. Or we can name him together."
There came more laughter, again tired over the disgusted clucking from the midwife attending the queen. Alistair looked confused, and Anora beckoned for his hand. the big hand, still calloused after over a year of reigning at her side. "Alistair," Anora said patiently, "I've just spent nine months providing Ferelden with an heir.
You will give me some moments of rest before expecting me to provide another one, won't you?"
Alistair dropped to his knees at Anora's bedside, still holding the baby, penitent, "Anora!"
"It was," Anora sighed, "A lot of work."
"I should have been with you!" Alistair leaned forward to kiss her again.
"Well, come and sit with me now," Anora gave him a graciously, queenly tone, "You, and me, and Gareth. Our family."
Alistair did not think he could be any happier. “If he’d been a girl, what would you have named her?” Alistair was being extraordinarily careful to hold the back of the neck as the midwife showed him.
“That’s for me to know for the next one,” Anora said with a yawn.
The smile on Alistair’s face was worth the effort.
“Alistair,” Anora had finally noticed, “Where did you get all these roses? They’re beautiful!”
This has been written for about two months, but i had to put some other chapters in first. Sorry, edited it to include the original stuff i had written, but just found last night.
Chapter 12: It's a girl!
Alistair was present at the birth of his second child with Anora, a girl with a thick cap of red hair. Dark blue eyes peered around at the world, passing over them all, the midwife, the Queen of Ferelden, himself.
Alistair took Anora’s hand in his larger one, wrists with sleeves rolled up and still painful from her nails where she had grasped him during labor. The King of Ferelden now truly understood that birth was a bloody, dangerous, and frightening thing. This had kept a lid on the boiling pot of his sense of humor. Alistair did not wish to be booted from the birthing chamber yet again, and he was to be present for every one of their children after that.
To think that red faced, bawling bundle had come out of his wife. Which lead to his thought that he had put that baby *into* his wife in the first place. Which lead to many unnecessary bits of the humor he had been told to avoid by Ariamne, the midwife. Alistair could not hide the wonder that was bursting out of him as he reached a finger out to touch the tiny hand that had escaped the swaddling. “What are you naming her,” Alistair could manage wondering and humble at the same time.
“Wynne,” Anora reached out to place her finger alongside her husband’s on her daughter’s tiny fingers.
“You’ve been waiting for a long time to spring that one on me, haven’t you?” Alistair laughed.
“Since Gareth,” Anora admitted, “Do you like it?”
“Very much,” her husband leaned over and Anora leaned into his kiss, “and I love you. Very much.”
“Just so we’re both clear on that,” Anora murmured, smiling as she watched her husband pick up their daughter for the first time.
“Never a doubt of it,” Alistair worried that he might burst with pride, “Where did all that red hair come from?
May I introduce her to Gareth? I sent for him after …”
“Where is my boy?” Anora held her arms out to the small face peering around the doorway, “Come and meet your sister, Gareth!”
The little boy climbed up on the bed and kissed his mother a trifle stickily. Anora was never sure what he would get into next, but it seemed that this time it had been sweetmeats. Alistair leaned on the bed holding his daughter, and Anora laughed as they both tried to explain to their small son that this was not a new “red cat”.
Alistair sent a carefully worded letter, written with Anora, to Wynne to tell her of the namesake. Wynne’s response was a letter of thrilled thanks accompanying a rather large box of books, “for all of the children including Anora and Alistair”. Alistair gave the letter to Anora, who kept it in her box of keepsakes, finally laying her own jealousy to rest.
Duncan Theron, who became Alistair in miniature, followed Wynne, and after him came Moira, who was not exactly like either, then Celia who was as golden as her mother. Finally they had Eron, and Anora admitted that she was not going to make the ten predicted by the fortuneteller in Gwaren. Anora was relieved to be keeping her hair, however, as the fortuneteller had told her she’d be bald as a winter’s heath.
The Gray Warden King of Ferelden had watched each child anxiously, worried about the taint that would be present. Indeed, it had been on his mind since Morrigan had cast her ritual before the Battle Of Denerim. If her child would have enough taint to attract the Old God, what would follow with the rest of his children?
Much as Alistair watched for it, bothered Theron about it, fussed, there was no sign of taint in any of the Royal children. Nor, as Theron pointed out, in any of Theron’s brood, for he had married and disappeared from the Gray Wardens’ view to live among the Dalish.
It had been hard for Alistair to release some of his anger at Rendon Howe in order to accept the new Warden Commander, Nathaniel. Alistair tended to overwhelm the sardonic Arl of Amaranthine with quirky humor, but they had come to a working relationship that tended to ignore the complexities of Howe being Alistair’s commander as a Gray Warden, and Alistair being Howe’s king.
And so they lived, certainly a fruitful life. Usually a happy one, because they tried to be happy rather than otherwise. Ruling is not easy work, especially when the world seems set to burst around you. Mages considered themselves free, but with the Ferelden crown behind them, looked to finding a way to ensure safeguards rather than promote abuses, as had happened in Kirkwall. The Warden’s Circle in Vigil Keep became rather famous as a branch of the Royal Academy studying Darkspawn, as Anora had promised when she started a new college in Denerim. If there were times when the Wardens throughout Thedas disagreed with the Ferelden crown, at least in Amaranthine they attempted to work together without the fraud of pretending non-involvement in politics. It did not make the Ferelden Warden Commander nor his Wardens popular, but they were financially secure, and had the support of the people they protected.
The day that Gareth set his sister’s bed on fire brought new heartache. No one was hurt severely, and it taught all of the children not to play with fire. At first. But Gareth, and then eventually Wynne showed the talents of magecraft, and much as it grieved Anora and Alistair they were sent to be trained with other mages in the less flameable environment of the tower. Anora knew the lesson learned by Isolde and Eamon, as did Alistair, and they strove to deal with their heartache for distancing their children as privately as possible.
Duncan became the new crown prince, and Gareth had to deal with that disappointment with the vow that he would become the greatest Fire Mage that Ferelden had ever seen. And that was an interest, surely, until his sister beat him at primal magics, often with fire as red as her hair.
Gareth turned to study of spirits and possession, and passed his testing, Harrowing as it was still called, but in another form, in record time. Wynne passed in time as well, but not as quickly as her brother. Still and all she managed to be as cocky about it as if she had surpassed him. Gareth and Wynn, being closer to Redcliff, were often invited guests of Arl Teagan, his wife Kaitlyn, and eventually their twins, who adored the Thierens and decided they wanted to be mages too.
And what of loppings of heads? Well there will be some in the last chapter.
Chapter 13: In which there is a lopping of heads.
Family means stories.
Of all the titles Alistair Theiren held, the most important and wonderful to him was that of “father to Gareth, Wynne, Duncan, Moira, Celia, and Eron”. This was second only to husband of Anora in importance. This evening was much like many nights in the Theiren family quarters. Anora nursed Eron in a comfortable chair by the fire, and Celia was asleep on her father’s chest as he stretched out on the settle. The other four children were building a complicated tower of wooden blocks on the carpeted flagstone floor before the large fireplace,
This space was home, a comfortable place that was not open to, or shared with, outsiders. All heads in the center looked up from their tower as the door opened. Cries of welcome greeted “Uncle Zevran” and a horde of his own children. Alistair waved a hand in the air, but did not move to disturb the sleeping toddler, and Anora smiled her welcome.
Zevran joined the children on the floor, and Moira and Wynne climbed up into Zevran’s lap, telling him the purpose behind the small intricate tower. In the puppylike pile of children the tower was knocked over, leading to a scuffle that ranged over Zevran, with only Wynne uninvolved as she played with his pale braids.
Alistair was amazed at how Celia could sleep through it all, her golden curls so like Anora’s, his shirt wet from the patch of drool leaking from the small slack lips. Anora called softly for Erlina, her maid, who summoned the Scout in charge of the children’s room. There was no embroidered hawk on her dress, but she was yet another of Zevran’s Kestrals. Amalthea, the dwarven scout came to pick up Celia to take her to bed. Alistair handed her off with reluctance, sitting upright and plucking at his drool moistened tunic.
Granna, an Elvhen Scout took the baby from Anora, heading in the opposite direction to the nursing room.
The clamor rose, until Duncan could be heard above all the rest asking his father for a story. The idea caught fire, and soon all the children were asking, nay demanding a tale from the King of Ferelden. “Tell us about lopping off heads for mother!”
“Yes!” “Yes, please do!” “Oh, father!” came encouragement from Duncan’s siblings.
“Once upon a time the Queen of Ferelden was traveling with some of her children to visit with the Teryna Cousland of Highever. With her were the King, her elder son, and eldest daughter, who was just a baby. They had a whole troop of Knights of Denerim with them. Gareth was riding his first pony, a gift from the Teryna of Highever.”
“I remember him! Padraig! He was all black, with white socks,” Gareth jumped up and down from among the crowd of tousled heads.
“I don’t remember this, father,” Wynne’s treble sounded disturbed.
“No, dearest, you were little. A baby, like Celia is now!” Anora comforted her.
“Where were you, Poppi?” came in chorus from a number of Zevran’s brood.
“Ah, my dears, I was paying a visit to Antiva to conclude some business with the Crows,” and that was all that Zevran was willing to contribute to the story.
“Suddenly, I felt that there was danger. Darkspawn! But they were not close, and they were heading away from us,” Alistair told them in hushed tones before going on, “I told Gareth to get into the carriage and to take care of his mother.”
“Aim for the eyes, you said! Slash at ‘em!” Gareth piped up.
“Aim for the eyes. A good thing to remember,” Alistair looked over his children and smiled at Anora.
Anora spoke then, “Your father told me much the same thing, Gareth, when we were first married.”
“Now the Knights of Denerim had experience from the Battle for the city during the Blight, but the Scouts were new to this. Your Uncle Zev trained them well, and they were burning to prove themselves to him, and to us.”
“Who was there, father?” Moira squeaked.
“Granna, and that Dwarven girl Jerna. Nobody was supposed to know that they were anything except servants. They rode inside the carriage with your mother.
We had also met with a small group of Knights Templar from the Starkhaven chantry. They were traveling from the Kinloch Circle to return to their home, and we met them on the road.
Now your mother and I had an argument, because we tried to figure out how we would fight the darkspawn and save the people in the area from them. But we wanted to make sure you, Gareth, and you, Wynne, were safe.
So we sent the Knights of Denerim to the next town to warn them. I didn’t go with them, because I was worried that the darkspawn would sense me and be scared off. Or come after me in particular. That didn’t happen.
Instead there I was with two scouts in the carriage with your mother, her maid, and the two of you, and a party of eight Knights Templar. They knew all the correct behaviors for Templars, and so I was taken in by them. Until...”
Alistair paused for effect and the children cried out in protest.
“The supposed Templars waited until the Knights were out of sight, and not close enough to hear any sounds of battle before they drew their swords and attacked!”
Sounds of disbelief and distress rose from the children.
Only Duncan’s voice came with a question, “Father! Did you smite them?”
“I did that, Duncan!” Alistair rubbed the golden head leaning against the couch, “And then I set to with my sword and shield, just as I’ve been showing you. There were many of them...”
“Eight!” Moira shouted, “You said there were eight!”
“Yes, Moira, but eight is a large number when it’s just you fighting!” Alistair grinned, “The scouts were smart and one of them got out before the Assassins could surround the carriage. It was Granna, and she got out and in to the woods with her bow before the Knights of Denerim had even left. Those false Templars did not like when she started to fire at them from the cover of the trees. She has a good eye, and managed to hit all the right chinks in their armor. But she only put down two of them before they were on me, and attacking the Royal Carriage.
The first persons the assassins killed were the drivers and the footman on the front and back of the carriage. Your Mother was throwing herself from side to side to see what was going on, even though Jerna demanded that she stay away from the windows. I was lopping off heads quite neatly, and she did get to see one or two of those before a dagger was shoved through the window at her.”
“Gareth slashed at the hand holding that dagger with his little knife before Jerna could pull him back and away from danger,” Anora smiled.
“What was I doing?” Wynne demanded.
“Well, you were sleeping at the start of it, but when the assassins climbed onto the carriage to get at us, the rocking woke you up. You started screaming fit to wake the dead!” Anora blew a kiss at her girl.
“I could hear you from outside, Wynne. You had very good lungs!” Alistair looked proudly at Wynne, who preened.
“Gareth wanted to be a hero,” Anora said disapprovingly, “He wanted to be like his father, so Jerna was having quite a time keeping him from the fight. So we lost her blade in the fight.”
Gareth looked sheepish, but argued, “I needed to take care of you, Mother!”
“Hmmm,” Alistair hid a smile, “So I swung my mighty blade and sliced off one head after another, knocking the false Templars from their feet. Thankfully they decided not to fight us on horseback. Probably did not know how to do that, for which I thank the Maker even now!
The horses, having some sense like the good creatures they are, got out of the way, so the assassins were not able to hid behind them from Granna’s arrows.
Eventually there were only three left, and your mother stopped trying to look out the window to see what was happening, and held on to Gareth and Wynne, so that Jerna could get her blades out and join me outside, cutting down the one whose hand Gareth bloodied on the way. She slammed him between the door and the carriage on her way out, then took care of him while he was stunned.
Meanwhile Granna and I killed the last two, and we sat to wait for the Knights of Denerim to return. Because the void blighted false Templars had killed the carriage men, and your mother and I and the scouts didn’t know how to drive the carriage into town, which is the way the darkspawn were headed, and we didn’t want to go there.
In the end the Knights of Denerim came back from their battle to save the town, full of news and expecting to see us defended ably by Templars, only to discover the Scouts and me piling bodies by the side of the road, while your mother was making tea over a small road by the side of the woods.
You, Gareth, helped her gather the wood for the fire, and while we waited Padraig came back, and all of the false Templar’s horses followed him. As did my own black, King.”
“Did you ever find out who sent the assassins, father?” Gareth leaned forward.
“Well, they might have been Crows, hired by a group of merchants from outside of Ferelden, Gareth. That’s what we think, though we never did find any papers on them,” Alistair answered.
“You would not have found papers on Crows, my dear Alistair,” Zevran put in, “and it does sound like something a cell would have tried. The blame would have fallen to the Templars. As you might remember they were in disagreement with you and Anora at the time over the position of mages in Ferelden.”
Alistair nodded in agreement, “and now, why don’t we have some music to wash away the blood?”
The brood scattered for the instruments kept close, and soon the sound of pipes and flute, a lute and drum blended with voices in song. Anora lifted her soprano to the tune while smiling at her husband. Even the thought of him lopping off heads for her made her love him all the more.